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Anthony Mann – Closing the gap between education and employment

Voices from HEQCO’s November 2014 conference
Hands On: Exploring Apprenticeship and the Skilled Trades

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Guest blogger: Anthony Mann

If employer engagement in education were a snappier hashtag, it would be trending.

Across the world, governments, institutions and organizations are asking themselves how can they close the gap between the worlds of education and employment, and better engage employers in the work of schools. A new collection of essays on employer engagement in education begins to answer these questions.   In Understanding Employer Engagement in Education, leading scholars from North America and the UK examine the character, delivery and consequences of employer involvement in the learning and progression of young people.

From a Canadian perspective, a University of Alberta team led by Professor Alison Taylor finds participants in school-based apprenticeships do better in school and have higher apprenticeship completion rates than peers. Another study finds statistically significant links between the extent of teenage employer contacts arranged through schools and later earnings (up to 18% more for those in full-time employment), employment levels and confidence in career progression.  A third study reveals that more than one third of British employers take on permanent recruits after short periods of school-managed work placement.

Collectively, these and other studies are providing the evidence that endorses the instincts of so many policy makers. But why might such benefits be expected and who would most gain from them? Research shows that while young people’s career aspirations are almost universally very high, they are commonly formed without active knowledge of the labour market or the educational requirements of particular occupations. In an era when teenage part-time employment has collapsed in many OECD countries (the proportion of 16 year olds working part-time in the UK has fallen from 40% to 20% since the late 1990s) and when only 15% of young Britons recall experiencing more than two school-mediated engagements with employers, this is perhaps unsurprising.  Unsurprising, but also a growing concern if, as the OECD argues in Learning for Jobs: “More complex careers, with more options in both work and learning, are opening up new opportunities for many people. But they are also making decisions harder as young people face a sequence of complex choices over a lifetime of learning and work.”

Clearly, a primary purpose served by employer engagement in education is to provide young people with better information about careers.  Studies show work experience to be acutely linked to the social backgrounds of parents. Unless schools intervene, working class kids can expect working class placements regardless of how ambitious their career aspirations are.  Work experience for many young people plays an important role in getting a job and/or getting into university. By contrast, peers in high-performing private schools find it easy to source placements from parents, alumni and their networks perfectly suited to the ambitions of their children.

The research continues but we know that:

  • High volume, short duration, career-focused employer engagement reaps high benefits for most young people
  • Employer engagement should begin from primary level as it is as much about shaping emerging identities as providing skills
  • Employer engagement can strengthen pathways into work by strengthening social networks as well as providing skills and resources for progression into employment or continued study

A much higher level of employer engagement is needed than is commonly experienced in schools across OECD countries.  To achieve that, the priority must be to tap into the strong, latent willingness on both sides to collaborate.  One radical innovation that addresses these barriers is www.inspiringthefuture.org – an online means of linking schools with employee volunteers. Since its launch in 2012, two-thirds of British secondary schools have signed up and a half million young people are on track to take part in a career or related activity with an Inspiring the Future volunteer. You could say it’s trending.

Anthony Mann is director of policy and research at the Education and Employers Taskforce, based in London, UK. He is also a speaker at our upcoming conference, Hands On: Exploring Apprenticeship and the Skilled Trades.

Our opinion is that the opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their opinion, and not necessarily those of HEQCO.

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