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As someone with senior business, teaching and Further Education experience, Tim Keighley is passionate about ensuring that young people are work-ready. So we asked Tim to outline where he feels the gaps are, and the steps Aylesbury College is taking to remedy the situation. (This article appreared in the April edition of B4 Magazine – Buckinghamshire)

There has been much talk in the media about work-readiness, with pundits talking about a workforce with plenty of qualifications on paper, but without the attributes or skills employers actually need. As a College which prides itself on working closely with the business community, we wanted to see whether this was a real concern for local companies. So we conducted research among 107 businesses of all sizes, operating in a mix of industries.

Those we questioned paint a mixed picture. Three quarters think there is a genuine issue with young people not being work-ready, and for many the problem is worsening. Only 14% think young people are more work-ready than they were 5 years ago and 31% think they are less.

The young peoples’ shortcomings range from poor time keeping, cited by almost half, and spending too much time on their mobile phones during the working day, mentioned by 44%, through to having unrealistic expectations about what they should be doing, an issue for 43%. The same number of local businesses also says that younger employees are often too informal when dealing with customers or senior staff.

Faced with figures like this it is all too easy to come down hard on young people. However our research also shows work-readiness is affected by a number of factors that are not within the control of young people. For instance, 78% of employers believe work-readiness is massively improved if a young person has had a part time job or work experience, but such opportunities, in a downturned market can be in short supply. 88% say the attitude of the young person’s parent or carer to work will be a huge influence. Businesses also resoundingly say that schools and colleges have an important role to play in the work-readiness debate.

SOME OF THE ANSWERS

At Aylesbury College we’d wholeheartedly agree. We believe young people can be a tremendous asset but they need more help. So we’ve been actively weaving into our curriculum important additional employability, enterprise and customer service skills – all things which are a valuable determinant of someone’s work-readiness. For instance as part of their courses our hair and beauty students gain practical experience working in the reception area and managing stock control. We also have real-world working environments within the College itself. These include a fully commercial salon, where hair and beauty students can gain practical experience. We run a commercial gym plus Harding’s Restaurant which is a fully functioning restaurant. We also have H’s Deli where apprentices hone their skills alongside the professional team. Such facilities provide an invaluable insight and experience.

We also cover soft skills during tutorials and special sessions. These include practical topics such as how to talk to customers, the dress code for work, timekeeping, even how to enter a room, shake a would-be employer’s hand and maintain eye contact during an interview.

TWO-WAY STREET

We are not doing such activities in isolation, as local businesses are an important part of the mix. So we run employer/student meetings during lunch hours. We also encourage companies to come in and talk to students about what it’s like to work in their business or industry, the opportunities and the skills needed.

The recent Work Wise Week was a concentrated burst of such activity. During the week over 350 young people attended an open event at the College to learn about CV writing, interview and presentations skills and how to become work ready. Over 400 ‘have a go sessions’ were completed – where young people could have a go at skills such as hair and beauty, carpentry and catering. Furthermore, 303 young people attended career workshops delivered by organisations and local businesses such as: the Royal Air Force, Taylor Wimpey, Urban Media, Aquaforest, Horigan Marketing, Energy PR and Deafax.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

We are doing all this because, as our own research shows, young people are a tremendous asset to business. Indeed 60% of local companies told us young people bring extra energy to the workplace, 53% said they are better at technology than most existing employees, 49% find them eager to learn and 48% say they are open to change. A further 44% value they different perspective and fresh ideas that young people bring.

So it’s in all our interests to ensure young people are not just qualified but are truly work-ready – equipped with the attitudes, skills and experience employers need. Initiatives such as Work Wise Week, plus embedding work-readiness throughout our curriculum are important but we want to do more, and will. That’s why I’d welcome input from employers in terms of what you feel we should be covering. To get in touch with me call 01296 780224 or email TKeighley@Aylesbury.ac.uk