What is the industry saying?
Talking about the construction sector and the imminent threat of failure due to “An unholy trinity of demographic, geopolitical and societal megatrends which is already starting to degrade our industry’s model of periodically supplementing its highly traditional labour force.” Mark Farmer makes the point that the skills shortage crisis isn’t just about numbers but also types of skills “We also need to urgently retrain our workers and attract a new breed that can use technology with new processes.” – Mark Farmer Founding Director Cast
This is one industry sector, but the story is the same across all sectors, just the other day someone was telling me about their son working in the Eden Project who had, along with their research colleagues, been trying to engage with local schools to encourage young people into the world of plant science. There are not enough people coming into the industry which is focussed on hugely impactful research and development in the areas of global food security, synthetic biology and biotechnology, and climate science and ecosystem conservation. Change the industry to title to Medicine, Engineering, Computer Science, or anything not related to being a You Tube blogger or professional football player, and it is clear the skills shortage is already a crisis.
What is the Solution?
The long-term solution, which is what is needed to make a sustainable change, is to further support the employability skills education initiatives already in play, provide real social value rather than just target hitting and we must ensure the diversity of the jobs and people doing those jobs in every community, is made clear to young people from as early as possible.
In terms of careers guidance and business engagement the main focus of attention is at secondary school, and while this age group absolutely need robust and specific engagement, along with support, to develop their employability skills throughout their path to work, this age group has, in the most, already formed their view of the world of work. Whilst it is possible to broaden their horizons and guide them more effectively through their chosen route, it is routinely more the case that they are fixed on what they want to do or what field they want to practise in.
Our view at Engage2Action, shared by many peers across industry and education, is that the best place to start the conversation about the world of work is the formative years – in primary school. This is the time when children are inspired and in awe of parents, teachers and business people, they are open to the idea that they can be anything, have little or no constraints to their creative thoughts and haven’t become set on their perception of the real world. Most certainly at this age children have a very narrow view of what their community has to offer and may not even have any experience outside of their immediate circle of friends and family, this may be for so many reasons – the unholy trinity springs to mind again!
How are we going to help?
Schools also have constraints and difficulties in making that engagement happen, even though it may have been an item on leadership plans for many a term, budget, terminology, the curriculum, time, parents support, the list goes on. What is needed is a model by which schools can plan business engagement with ease and the benefits to industry clearly articulated in terms of social value. Engage2Action have developed this model and are working successfully with schools and the local community to implement it, the long term benefits of which we won’t be able to measure but can speculate to be improved employment rates in STEM careers and careers of the future, increased local economy, sustainable workforce with the right skills, reduced rates of young offenders, reduced drain on public money, better uptake of the apprenticeship levy and increased numbers of young people going into higher education.