President Obama recently gave the much-anticipated State of the Union address.
It was encouraging to hear that we actually have similar views on education.
In particular, he called for more on-the-job training and apprenticeships, to help 'set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life.'
Sound familiar? That's because the UK has been training young people in practical skills for hundreds of years.
And yet the UK Commission's Employer Skills Survey 2013 shows that one in five job vacancies weren't filled last year because employers couldn't find qualified candidates.
So what's the problem? More importantly, how can we fix it? I suggest three things that the UK and the US need to do:
1. Teach options. Obama said that he wants every child to have access to a university education. It's eerily similar to when Labour set a target over a decade ago to have 50% of 18 year-olds attend university. As a result, we have thousands of young people with degrees but without jobs. Kids shouldn't be forced to go to uni if it isn't right or them. They need to know all the options that are available to them.
2. Get businesses involved. Obama suggested forging greater links between business and education. That way, employers can directly impact the curriculum to get the skills they need, and young people are prepared for employment. It seems like a no-brainer, but it's shocking how few businesses are actually involved in education. City & Guilds Group research shows that 60% of employers don't think young applicants have the right skills for the workplace. Yet, more than 40% of businesses in the UK don't work with local schools or colleges to attract new talent. Instead of sitting back and lamenting the under-skilled workforce they need to do something about it.
3. Fund it. To see change, Government needs to invest in all types of education, not just academia. Obama warned of the dangers of cutting education funding, and I think our leaders need to pay attention. How can they make a dent in the UK's astronomical youth unemployment rate if they don't support them? Sadly, the very training that could get them into work is under threat. Research shows that employers think that college leavers are more 'work ready' than school leavers, yet the Government has announced a 17.5% funding cut which will affect college students the most. If the Government really wants to get young people into work, they must support skills training with their chequebook.
The UK is in a much better position than the US to prepare our young people for work. We already have great programmes and systems in place. But, our future workforce could be completely undermined.