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Addressing the skills shortage to get Britain working again

Last month the Work Foundation released a report, Lost in Transition, which found that more than 450,000 NEETS - young people not in education, employment or training - have never had a regular job. The author of the report, Paul Sissons, said that young people can lack the necessary soft skills, such as "communication, team working and customer service," to qualify them for the jobs available in the service sector. This tells us that there are jobs out there for the taking, yet young people are unable to make the crucial transition from education to employment.

Unfortunately, the findings of the Work Foundation’s research and Sissons’ comments come as little surprise to me. Time and time again employers tell us at City & Guilds that too many young people are lacking the basic skills needed to make them employable. Given that youth unemployment currently sits at record levels, this is a shocking state of affairs.

The disconnect between what young people have to offer and what employers require is something which City & Guilds also recently highlighted in our own research report: Ways into Work: Views of children and young people on education and employment. The report, which was the first comprehensive study of its kind on the views of 7 to 18 year olds on education and employment, revealed a well-informed generation, who are keen to engage with employers and are skilled, but lack the softer skills that make them ready for the world of employment. Among other things, the report found that young people want greater emphasis on the practical application of Maths and English in schools. This tells us that employers and young people actually want the same thing: teaching that equips the learner for the workplace and gives the right skills employers say they need to drive economic growth.

So far, I have talked about the problem of a skills shortage in the context of ’young people’ and ’NEETS’, largely because this is the focus of the Work Foundation’s report and also the wider public debate on the issue of youth unemployment. However, it is important to acknowledge that this problem doesn’t just apply to school leavers. Unemployment is riding high in the UK across all age groups and older people who have suddenly found themselves out of work are similarly finding that they lack the right skills needed to secure employment again. When we consider how to tackle this skills shortage we must look for a solution which can be applied to those who finished their education 20 years ago, as well as those who finished last year.

At City & Guilds, the skills shortage and finding the right solutions for this has been a long-standing concern for us. For this reason we have developed a new employability offering called Work Ready. The programme includes the teaching of core skills, such as in Maths, English and ICT, as well as the personal competencies, or “soft skills”, people need to help them into a working environment. As part of the Unit Warehouse, we have over 150 free-standing units across a range of sectors that can be used to build up an individualised learner programme. Work Ready will equip learners with the kinds of skills the Work Foundation identified as key to securing employment. And, perhaps most importantly, Work Ready is designed to suit everyone – no matter what their age, or the current level of their skills.

It is clear from the Work Foundation’s report and our own research that the unemployment crisis facing people of all ages is more profound than simply a lack of available jobs. Whilst employment opportunities are scarcer at the moment than during previous decades, this is only part of the problem. If we are to get the UK working again we need to also address the skills shortage, which is stopping employers taking on people even when they have vacancies to fill. City & Guilds’ Work Ready programme is just one example of the ways we should be working to give people of all ages the right combination of skills employers need to grow business and drive economic growth in the UK.

Chris Jones is chief executive and director general of City & Guilds, the awarding body

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