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Education System Must Better Prepare Young People for Life Outside School Gates

04/07/2014 09:58 BST | Updated 02/09/2014 10:59 BST

Whether you have a son or daughter just finishing their summer exams or you're a high-tech manufacturer hoping to add to your pool of skilled technicians, we all want young people to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential - not just in work but in life. But the education system must do more to prepare them for life outside the school gates - or we risk wasting our greatest asset.

There is no bigger issue facing our economy today than getting the education and skills system in the right shape to meet rising demand for a highly motivated, highly skilled workforce to underpin our future economic success. This year's CBI/Pearson education and skills survey spells out exactly why we can no longer afford to tolerate a system that seems to be unable to deliver.

Over half of British firms are concerned about the resilience and self-management skills of school leavers and a third with their attitude towards work. Just under half of all firms are worried that young people making the jump from the classroom to the meeting room do not possess enough knowledge of their chosen careers or have relevant work experience. This reflects business opinion that the careers advice system is in a perilous state, with four out of five firms saying it's simply not up to the task. By contrast, almost all firms are more than happy with the IT skills of our young people as they enter work.

The journey we all make from school to the workplace can be very daunting so incentivising our schools, colleges and university to produce students with the grit, ambition and emotional intelligence needed to build successful careers would help. We also need to clearly set out what we want our schools to deliver and then hold them to account against it - This could include support for a more tailored curriculum between 14 and 18.

The government redesigns exams and expects them to change the system, rather than changing the system and using exams to accredit it. We need to take a step back to see the big picture and create a system that better reflects how well a school's culture nurtures the behaviours and attitudes young people need. This cannot be judged by exam results alone.

This year's survey also shows us that many businesses remain concerned about the challenges they have to fill the roles of the future. Almost half of firms are worried about both the quality and quantity of science, technology, engineering and maths graduates, and increasingly have problems recruiting the highly-skilled staff they need to grow. The government must explore if it's possible to reduce the costs of some of these courses and create a one-year crossover qualification at 18 for those who turned away from science and maths after GCSEs, but now want to take a related degree.

But it's not enough for business to stand on the side lines, firms must also play their part. There have been positive steps to move towards the employer-driven skills system we need, but increased business engagement can equally add value to a school's environment - from involvement in careers guidance and staff volunteering as governors, to sponsoring academies and supporting teachers to deliver motivational and inspiring lessons.

We've got to make sure that every young person receives an education that will enable him or her to fulfil their true potential - in every school and college across the UK, whatever the area and whoever is in charge. We're hearing the right noises from politicians across the board these days, and seeing some progress, but the need for genuine reform of the system remains.