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Being young people ready is the answer to tech skills challenges

Dr Neil Bentley, Chief Executive, WorldSkills UK

Thursday, 22 Nov 2018

It was good to hear the Prime Minister call for investment ‘in the future of the next generation by giving them a chance to develop their skills and begin a rewarding career’ when she spoke at this week’s CBI annual conference. Indeed, governments and businesses across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all rightly focusing on the needs of young people through strategies to boost skills and improve productivity. A CBI survey this week highlighted how 49% of young people have concerns about how their education relates to their work readiness. This should be taken seriously because, as the Prime Minister herself recognised in her speech this week, government reforms to technical education have not historically kept pace with the demands of the wider economy.

Yet from the many conversations I had last week with some of the 70,000 visitors attending WorldSkills UK LIVE, and from the skills I saw on display, I am more optimistic about young people’s work-readiness. LIVE played host to the finals of our UK-wide national skills competitions, and the standard of competition this year was excellent. English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish apprentices and students rose to the occasion and institutions from across the UK – City of Glasgow College, New College Lanarkshire, Coleg Cambria, North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College, Southern Regional College – demonstrated how high-quality training is paving the way for an incredibly talented crop of young people who will be the future high-flyers, which our economy needs.

My optimism is also built on a survey that we conducted earlier in the year with the Careers and Enterprise Company which found that almost two-thirds of young people are confident in the skills they have and do possess what employers are looking for in terms of key competencies such as use of technology, team working and being organised. We can therefore agree that it’s vital that the education system is equipping young people with the skills that business wants, and that business is being responsive to the needs of young people. As the CBI President John Allan has himself said: businesses ‘need to do more in ensuring young people want to work and stay with them’.

At WorldSkills UK we have developed a five-point plan to help business do just that. Called being ‘young people ready’, our plan is validated by the young people on our programmes, which gives business the confidence to know that it works and can help recruit the high-performing workforce of the future. Being ‘young people ready’ means having the right policies in place with respect to: apprenticeships, mental health, mentoring, mindset and inclusion – demonstrating to young people that the jobs on offer are designed with them in mind – a crucial differentiator in today’s increasingly tight labour market. As Simon Winfield the MD of Hays, who co-sponsored the CBI survey, has said: ‘businesses need to step in to help bridge the gap between education and the world of work’. To support this, that’s also why we have announced this week a new partnership with Youth Employment UK to champion effective youth employment practices and develop further together the Youth Friendly Employer Award.

It’s vital that businesses are making their employment opportunities as attractive as possible to the next generation and the most encouraging finding from the CBI’s research comes when looking at young people’s attitudes towards new technology. Nearly half of young people feel ‘intrigued’ about the possibilities offered by the worlds of robotics, VR and AI; and nearly a quarter are most likely to say they are ‘optimistic’. This is backed up by our experiences of working with young people at WorldSkills UK. At LIVE, it was so inspiring to see countless schoolchildren captivated by the wonders of new technology that partners like BAE Systems, MBDA, Bosch and Middlesex University were sharing with them. For the smartphone generation, technology is naturally seen as an enabler, something to work alongside rather than to be worried about.

And the labour market is changing fast: in 2008, cloud computing was not even on the list of most sought-after jobs for young people; today, it is firmly in the top 10. It’s why it was one of the new tech competitions that we trialled at LIVE, alongside others like cyber security and lab technician. And at the Tech Summit we hosted during LIVE, the overriding impression is that this generation of young people wants to make amazing things happen by having access to the latest technology and being empowered to use it in the most creative and disruptive ways.

That’s why we are working with our partners to help keep pace with these fast-changing times – because the economy needs the productive, highly-skilled workforce of the future and if we stand still, we will fall behind. Businesses which show they are ‘young people ready’ and tech savvy will be the trailblazers who reap the rewards.

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