By Matt McIntyre, Learning and Development Consultant, OnTrack International

A recent British Chambers of Commerce Workforce Survey reported that of the 3,000 firms they contacted, 88% thought school leavers were not ready for employment and 54% said it was the same for graduates. Applicants’ lack of work experience was also cited by 76% of businesses as being a problem although 61% admitted that they did not offer these types of placements themselves.

These are worrying statistics for employers and even more so for the young people leaving school or higher education looking for jobs. It’s clear that the education system we have in place at the moment still has one foot in the Victorian era and is no longer fit for purpose. The various short-term measures introduced to try and address this problem have instead created a cobbled-together system strangled by regulation and bureaucracy that takes very little account of what industry requires. No wonder the UK education system, once a world leader, now lags behind countries such as Japan and France. The UK no longer makes anything anymore, the manufacturing base has gone and instead we’ve become a nation with specialist skill sets such as innovation and creativity.

The Government needs to spearhead a concerted campaign to ensure there is more joined-up thinking between industry and education. What do we need the next generation to be good at? What is industry looking for? We need to be clear about what we need the next generation to be good at and then invest in them to make sure their skills are fit for purpose and that they are better prepared to add value to the workplace. The reality is we are educating children for jobs that in a lot of cases don’t exist yet.

Apart from certificates for academic skills most of us never use again the moment we leave full-time education, what key skills to we require our students and graduates to have? Even though young people communicate more than ever via social media, 57% of the companies surveyed by the BCC reported that school leavers and graduates lacked the necessary soft skills for the workplace such as communication, team-working and resilience. Many young people don’t understand that grunting is not communicating and they struggle to have a conversation with a grown-up or someone who is older than they are. They need to learn effective listening skills and how to put a point across in a meeting without being aggressive and confrontational. Unfortunately the ability to work and communicate as part of a team is not a skill that can be easily judged or measured. It’s the same for other workplace skills such as problem solving and being proactive: knowing how to make things happen and how to fix them if they go wrong. Young people also need the ability to identify and influence people, particularly those who are important for their careers.

The majority of graduate development programmes we deliver for large global organisations contain learning material aligned to developing these skills. Ideally, these skills should be brought into play in every subject taught in the classroom, closely integrated into all the topic areas so that students have the opportunity to use these skills in a safe environment and discuss their use afterwards.

On the other side of the fence, industry needs to be more pro-active at providing meaningful work experience and apprenticeships. If business fails to make the necessary investment needed to grow their own talent, they will end up paying a fortune to buy someone else’s talent. An extreme example of this is Manchester United’s decision to get rid of striker Danny Welbeck who recently scored a hat trick for Arsenal who snapped this promising young striker up. This is the first time for many years Man Utd have sold a talented player to a rival while spending $160m buying in ready-made foreign players. As a counterbalance there will always be clubs like Southampton who has a great policy of investing in young talent even though they know they will eventually be snapped up when Arsenal, Man Utd and Chelsea come calling.

Most UK businesses can’t afford to always ‘buy-in’ expertise, therefore it is vital that education talks to industry to ask them what they’re looking for and then provide it. Equally education needs to ensure graduates have the key skills required for business. If businesses and society as a whole fails to invest heavily in the next generation so that they are better prepared to add value to the workplace, then we will no longer be a globally competitive nation.

OnTrack International is a global learning consultancy which works with some of the most successful organisations in the world. The company’s man focus is on developing people by providing bespoke learning solutions to achieve the desired results which add value to businesses. OnTrack International’s ‘Think Believe Achieve’ approach is designed to transform the way people think and behave by challenging conventional ways of being and behaving.