The value of work experience at all levels of the education system has long been acknowledged although many employers, employer groups and universities have not been fully convinced or supportive of work based learning. Even today there is continued resistance, albeit thankfully now declining, to work experience programmes. Over the years universities and a number of employers have been criticised for not recognising the value of work-experience programmes and its essential focus on the practical aspects associated with the world of work. Too often they were obsessed with the academic aspects of degree subjects with the resultant neglect of the practical applications of that knowledge in the work place or were more interested in the university from which students graduated. Interestingly to note that 19% of graduates are now working in non-graduate jobs, a figure that is predicted to increase in the future and a stark reminder of the woeful state of the supply and demand strategies being operated in the country! In order to address skills shortages and gaps the country urgently needs more engineers (estimated to require a 100% increase in order to satisfy current demand), computer science graduates (20,000 needed) and many more skilled technicians in order to begin to rebalance the economy. A recent survey highlighted the need to produce 1.82 million engineers and technicians by 2022. The current decline in the teaching of Design and Technology (D&T) in schools both associated with the number of qualified teachers and the low number of students wishing to study the subject is particularly concerning. The subject has always struggled to be fully recognised in the national curriculum.
Work experience also helps create business critical skills /attributes often referred to as soft skills which are seen as being very important in preparing people entering employment.
Early work experience programmes are crucial as a predictor of future career performance and outcomes. It is essential that all parties make a long term commitment to work experience programmes at all stages of education and training. In addition there must be a long term and continued commitment to the development of high quality apprentice programmes. Internships if properly managed with interns receiving a proper wage and involved in the company have allowed some employers to witness the benefit of relevant and real on job training and experience. These programmes must be further expanded across all employment sectors with SMEs particularly given far more financial and government support to increase their involvement. Interesting to note that SMEs employ 60% of workers in private sector companies and this figure will increase significantly in the future. Equally important SMEs must be supported to engage more fully in apprenticeship programmes.
Extended programmes of work experience at all levels especially at the school stages of the education and training system are urgently required as this will greatly benefit all parties and the wider economy. A great deal of discussion recently has centred on the need to create ‘work ready graduates’ and programmes of work experience will most certainly assist in this essential endeavour. Equally important more effective programmes of careers information, advice and guidance must be developed within the education and training sectors with an emphasis on honest and realistic broker-ship. It is also essential to recognise the importance of the older worker in these programmes as the work force ages and the realities of the demographic trends are more fully understood. Currently 25% of the country’s workforce is over 50 years of age and this figure will significantly increase in the future.
Students must also be more realistic about their studies and take ownership of their career intentions particularly at the earlier stages of their education. Too often they drift into HE without any real idea of what they want to do after graduation. In addition parental and teacher pressure often sets them on the wrong study/career path.
Businesses/companies, CBI, Chambers of Commerce, professional bodies should put more effort in to writing and communicating realistic descriptions and explanations of their fields of work, production and services which speak to 14-16 year olds as well as post16s. They have as much responsibility for grabbing young people’s attention as any other institution.
If this country is serious about rebalancing our economy and realise the rather clumsy and stupid slogan ‘march with the makers’ made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer it must address some fundamental practices and beliefs.
The country urgently needs to rethink its current obsession with the financial services and consumerism. To summarise it must move towards production and away from a consuming society and create a more sensible balance between the manufacturing and service based industries. The education and training system has a central role to play and the introduction of extensive programmes of work experience is an essential feature of this endeavour. Following cuts to colleges over the past few years 25% of Further Colleges (FECs) are expected to be bankrupt within the next year and a number of commentators have argued that £500m should be taken away from the current vast reserves held by some universities. FE colleges have a central role in training engineers, technicians and skilled workers in strategically important industries that will form the basis of a rebalanced economy and must be resourced properly.