Official unemployment figures released last week by the Government have revealed that youth unemployment levels are now at their lowest since Spring 2011; just over 900,000 young people are now out of work in the UK. While any fall in unemployment levels is to be welcomed, there's no getting away from the fact that 900,000 is still a huge number, particularly when we're talking about the young. This is a problem that needs educators, employers and regulators to come together and fix.
The figure is particularly shocking when you consider that more than one in five current job vacancies is due to the lack of enough skilled applicants for the job, according to the recent Employer Skills Survey from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). There are training needs in the workforce (and potential workforce) that clearly aren't being met. Why are our young people falling through the cracks, and what can we do to rectify it?
My view is that while we need to make sure that the education system helps young people prepare for the world of work , to tackle youth unemployment effectively, employers have to learn to be more flexible as well. Young people can offer a huge amount to a workplace if they are nurtured in the right way. As an employer myself, I sympathise with the desire for new recruits to 'hit the ground running', but good employers should be willing to pay a role in nurturing raw talent. Within AAT, I've been able to coach people who started off in entry level junior roles to go on to senior management positions, with the right training, support and opportunities. We must be prepared to give people a chance.
AAT's members are a great example of how this works in practice; employers in finance and accounting expect to train young people to become professionals, and are proactive about doing this. There's nothing holding back other sectors from doing the same. Research suggest that organisations that are committed to the development of their staff gaine business benefits such as attracting the best talent and enjoying higher levels of staff engagement.
It's encouraging to see thatemployers are beginning to adjust. AAT's own research, involving a range of small, medium and large employers, showed they are shunning traditional school qualifications and placing more value on skills. Nearly nine in 10 employers say they focus on candidates' skills, not qualifications, as the main factor in hiring decisions, and nearly half (44%) expect to increase in-house learning to fill perceived gaps in the school curriculum.
Employers also want to be more involved in qualification development, the research showed. More than a third (37%) believe that employers should be heavily involved in qualification development. Failings in the current system mean that, at present, 80% of employer training takes place outside regulatory frameworks. The result is that organisations like ours are bending over backwards to align qualifications with frameworks that many employers choose not to use. We need more action from employers, working alongside education and training providers, to deliver the training that people need to be successful in the workplace.
The combination of continuing youth unemployment and obvious skills gaps in the market, for me, provides an impetus for all the key parties involved tomake changes.. The responsibility lies with Government, employers and the skills sector - we all know and acknowledge the system could work better. As the market improves, there's a real chance to make the most of the nation's young people, if only we can work together andbuild on what works.
Jane Scott Paul OBE is retiring as CEO of AAT next month after 17 years in the role.