It makes little sense to me that simultaneously we are facing a national skills shortages in key industries, while youth unemployment (including our graduates) stands close to 14%.
What’s going on? Why the mismatch in the skillsets of young people and the requirements of employers? It’s the eternal Catch-22 of recruitment: one side is looking for employment, the other for employability.
Let’s think for a moment about what being ‘employable’ looks like. The CIPD has outlined three top skills that employers seek: communication, teamwork and confidence. As an employer myself, I’d add the abilities to self-manage, take initiative, and problem solve within a dynamic environment. But above all, employers look for relevant training and experience — and neither can be acquired in academia.
For me, there’s a simple resolution to all this: “earn to learn”. In-house training programmes such as apprenticeships, where young people acquire relevant skills on-the-job. And the beauty is, these programmes create a “positive-sum” outcome: apprentices earn on average £150,000 more over their lifetimes than non-apprentices (and have far less debt than graduates, by the way); employers have a workforce tailored to their requirements; and governments tackle youth unemployment and national skills shortages.
This is why I founded The 5% Club two years ago and still passionately campaign for the cause. Our members aspire to the goal of at least 5% of their headcount constituting apprentices, sponsored students or graduate trainees within 5 years.
We have come a long way in the past two years. Since its launch, The 5% Club has grown to over 150 corporate members and we have helped drive vocational training up the government agenda.
The new government levy has the potential to be a positive step if industry and government work together to refine it. But for me, it is only half the equation. While ambitious targets give us something to aim for, in my view the government target for 3 million new apprentices faces the same issue that all quotas face, from ethnicity to gender: it will not provide the long-term solutions needed to provide lifetime careers and boost our ability to compete globally unless it becomes embedded into business thinking – and fast.
I believe it is incumbent on employers to stop talking about recruitment issues and skills shortages that are holding us back today, and act to make sure tomorrow is a different story. After all, only businesses can create jobs and only businesses can ensure the knowledge of their experienced workforce does not disappear when key individuals retire.
Over and above the tangible business benefits of employing apprentices – and there are many – we have the opportunity not just to give people employment, but to help make them employable – like teaching a man to fish.
So what I would say to company heads today is this: this is a fantastic chance to future-proof your business and to boost UK competitiveness. Let’s grab it with both hands.