Bridging the skills gap – we’re all in this together

Hilary French NCHSFGNot wanting to sound like an extra from Disney’s High School Musical, but when looking at the problem of the UK skills gap, we are all in this together!

Responsibility for understanding, identifying and solving this growing problem can’t lie solely at the door of business and industry, nor indeed can schools, colleges, universities and other educational establishments shoulder the burden of responsibility alone.

Working collectively is the only way forward to secure a robust future not only for our young people, but the economy as a whole.

Over the past decade, the debate has been bubbling and now is full of businesses and industry lamenting the lack of suitably trained recruits entering the jobs market. Critics argue that schools, colleges and universities are solely to blame for failing to equip young people with the right skills and experience to fill jobs now and into the future and that young people are leaving education and training ill-equipped to deal with the rigours of the workplace and without the necessary skills to take on future challenges.

As an educator, I am acutely aware of the role I play and my responsibility to educate and train the next generation of workers. At Newcastle High, the majority of our girls will leave school and go on to study at university, delaying their entry into work for three or more years. We are still conscious of the need to equip them with transferable, work-related skills and an understanding of what employers are looking for in their staff both now and into the future.

We are also extremely keen that our girls understand and see the wide range of opportunities available to them across all industries and professions regionally, nationally and internationally.

We recently launched a CareerConnect initiative to work closely with many international and national organisations with interests in the North East to identify, understand and plug skills shortages across a wide range of business sectors.

A series of guest lectures, mentoring schemes, work placements and internships have all been arranged following the launch of CareerConnect and girls were introduced to a wide range of businesses and employment opportunities. We know how important this is. Research has shown that the parameters for career choice are set from an early age by the people you come into contact with ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. If young people never get an insight into certain jobs, those jobs will never be an option for them. It is our responsibility to open their eyes and their minds and to avoid narrow career choices being made. We want them to know and explore all their options.

Education has always been about so much more than academic qualifications. Now more than ever, we must extend teaching beyond the confines of the classroom and the national curriculum and into local industry and business. It is a two-way street though, we need business to deliver and channel resource into making strong workable connections with schools. It is these links and relationships that will provide young people with the requisite skills for work.

We know it will be these opportunities and links forged outside the classroom that will play a huge role in shaping the future of our young people. We urge businesses to play their part and work with schools to build strong foundations for the economy of the future.