October 21, 2014

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I met a group of small business owners in our area who told me that there was a shortage of young people who were ready to start work. This is not a new problem. 

As schools have to get the best exam results to do well in league tables there is no incentive to spend time on getting young people ready to go to work. 
So basic understanding of what an employer needs is not something that is necessarily covered at school or college. 
Problem solving, communication and common sense are attributes that employers are keen to consider, yet there is no exam that measures these and other vital skills. 
And in this country we may have lots of apprenticeships, but many of them are short training programmes rather than the detailed, indentured long term programmes, which enable apprentices to develop a full level of skills for their chosen area. 
That is why we need to move to an education system that values vocational learning as much as academic learning. 
At present, being able to pass exams in academic subjects is regarded as being the most important way of showing you are qualified to go on to the next level of education or into work. Yet, employers need young people with skills and attitudes that mean they can contribute.

We have a shortage of skills in this country and need a much stronger apprenticeship system, which delivers the skills employers need and which small businesses can use. 
This could happen by businesses sharing an apprentice and could work if colleges took on the management of apprentices as well as their studies. A similar system operates in other countries.

We have to do what is needed to improve living standards. But if we don’t make sure that young people develop the skills we need, if we don’t make sure that young people are better equipped to go to work and if we don’t support small businesses, our recovery will remain fragile at best, with a handful of people at the top benefiting, while the majority of people whether employed or self-employed continuing to struggle. 
Filling the skills gap is a challenge, which we must not ignore.