Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They make up 99 per cent of the 5.2 million businesses in the UK. We all rely on small businesses in our daily lives, and they help mould and shape our local towns, cities and regions. While we are all busy going about our daily business, our schools are simultaneously helping to develop and prepare the next generation workforce.
Before reaching the workplace, many of these pupils will move into further and higher education, while others will be keen to move straight into the working world.
Even though I have just described the world of work and the world of education in two separate sentences, it is in fact the connection between these two communities that is helping employers to find the answer to their recruitment needs. By paying a visit to the school classroom, employers are spotting pupils that are fully equipped with the skills they need to drive their business forward in the years ahead.
A skills strategy for Scotland
This is already happening in Scotland through an initiative called Developing the Young Workforce (DYW), which is part of the Scottish Government’s National Youth Employment Strategy. A strong network of 21 industry-led Regional Groups have been set up throughout Scotland to significantly reduce youth unemployment and strengthen links between education and business for the benefit of the young people and the employers. Indeed, with both the Scottish and UK Governments having a focus on partnerships between education and industry, we are seeing tangible benefits from the active engagement in the areas where Developing the Young Workforce is in full force.
As project manager for Developing the Young Workforce in West Lothian, which lies to the west of Edinburgh, my role is to connect local businesses with schools to create meaningful opportunities for the benefit of all involved. In practise, this means taking time to understand the businesses we are working with so that we can understand how their involvement in DYW activities can add value to their organisation.
After all, with skills shortages playing on the minds of many business leaders and low skills being quoted as the biggest threat to UK competitiveness, investing time in developing young people will serve to boost the long-term prospects of any forward-thinking business.
Accessing an emerging talent pool
Engaging with education is creating an opportunity for employers to access an emerging talent pool and to attract the next generation workforce into their industry. However, for employers, the additional (and perhaps unexpected) benefit of getting involved has been the positive impact on their existing workforce, where staff have been energised and developed through their interactions with young people.
Business influence within the context of education ensures that young people are equipped with the skills that local companies are looking for and makes them much more prepared for the world of work, which streamlines the recruitment process for employers. In addition, businesses intervening at an early stage of a young person’s education maximises their chances of making informed career choices, and encourages them to consider local job opportunities, which impacts positively on the local economy.
However, to ensure that young school leavers are equipped with core skills, and to plug the skills gap on the scale that is required, the involvement of even more businesses is absolutely crucial.
Addressing future skills shortages
So why are local employers getting involved with the DYW project? Not only does it facilitate business growth and sustainability, it also helps businesses to address future skills shortages. Succession planning weighs heavily on the minds of many employers and engaging with the workforce of the future provides an effective solution to this.
Furthermore, it is an opportunity to gain fresh young perspective on company processes, giving businesses a competitive edge in the market by revitalising and modernising existing approaches. This emerging workforce is equipped with a unique skill set that will adapt and change, lending vital support to a working environment along with a wave of enthusiasm, ideas, and motivation. Remember too, that we have very skilful school-leavers who are technology savvy, with social media and digital know-how that is an invaluable asset to any company.
In the past, young people entered the workplace having had limited interactions with local businesses during their time in education. Even now, it is not every young person who is fortunate enough to have a role model who can talk to them about the business world. This not only affects young people’s understanding of what is expected of them in the workplace, it also does not open their eyes to the wealth of opportunities on their doorstep.
Business and education: A vital union
There is now a recognition that business involvement in education is vital in ensuring young people develop as effective employees, and our schools and colleges are embracing the drive to channel their energies and focus into the DYW agenda. The collective and collaborative effort from DYW, education and employers is empowering our school leavers to be bright, confident and effective individuals, who make a valuable contribution to the workforce.
There is certainly active engagement between the business and education communities in lots of pockets throughout the UK. However, wider support from the business community could create a powerful, long-lasting and meaningful change in how the world of work is embedded in the classroom. The profound impact this would have on young people, particularly in areas where youth unemployment figures might still be a concern, would be significant. Schools and businesses working together to get these young people ready for the workplace and provide them with training and support would, I’m sure, be warmly welcomed.
Would you look to your local schools to find your next employee? It might just be worth it, to tap into the skills potential that could propel your business to the next level.
Lauren Brown is project manager for Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian.