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Bridging the Gap between School and Work

Yesterday we heard in the news that unemployment figures had dropped again, though only by around 14,000. On the same day we hear that almost 2000 people applied for the eight places to make coffee in a Nottingham cafe. Sorry – they applied for the desirable new career path of being a barista at a Costa Coffee. Well done, Costa; I’m impressed by your ability to talk up a fairly basic retail catering role (but will calling it barista service speed up the generally abysmally slow rate of drinks service at all, do you think?).

There are still 2.5 million people of working age who are unemployed. Despite the fragility of the economy, the CIPD predicts that employment will continue to grow, marking the fourth consecutive quarter of growth. Whilst this overview gives a mildly positive outlook, it’s a different story for young workers. Youth unemployment rose from 20.5% to 20.8% in the three months leading up to November.

This depressing tale of the number of 16-24 year-olds who have left education but are out of work has been discussed in the media now for some time. Why, despite all the help and initiatives and help out there for young people are they still struggling? I can’t help wondering if their expectations and the way they approach the job-hunting process might not have something to do with it.

We have been delivering Build & Fly Your Own Rocket to school leavers for some time. One of the exercises we do is to give them adverts from the local paper and ask them to analyse what skills or aptitudes the employer is looking for. This analysis will tell them whether they have the skills (even raw skills are fine) to do the job and it informs them what to put in the covering letter. Old fashioned a covering letter may be but it WORKS. Most of them seem to be unable to determine what’s being asked for, which makes it very difficult to say that the applicant in question can do the job (particularly pertinent if one of the skill sets is an ability to analyse data).

Many who make it past the interview stage perform so poorly or have completely the wrong attitude to work that they are let go during or at the end of the probationary period There is an astonishing naievety among many young people about work. Look at Cait Reilly who pointed out in a rather precious fashion that she didn’t learn anything from sweeping the floors or shelf stacking for two weeks at Poundland while on one of the Government’s return to work schemes. I appreciate that it may not have been very exciting or what she eventually wants to do, but we all have to start somewhere and most successful people learn from the shop floor up, including Terry Leahy. The former Tesco CEO had no qualifications and started his career sweeping floors and stacking shelves, yet he has been phenomenally successful. It’s all about getting a foot through the door then looking for and/ or creating opportunities.

There’s been much debate about the unsatisfactory levels of workplace skills with which schools equip the students, and many employers blame this for the large number of students who simply don’t fit in with corporate culture or perform tasks well. Businesses want people who have the basic educational skills (an ability to read and write clear, accurate English and add up correctly would be really nice),and are prepared to work and learn.

How are we to break the terrible cycle of youth unemployment? Schools, parents and the students themselves have to take a long hard look at the reality of the workplace. There are jobs out there. Employers will tell you how hard it is to get the right people in place and that’s certainly my experience. I don’t mind bringing in good raw material and training, but I refuse to have the least worst. Right now there is a huge opportunity for good job seekers with sensible expectations and the right work ethic, but they have to accept that the employer, who after all is paying, has the right to require them to meet certain minimum requirements. The workplace won’t change to fit the jobseeker. It has to be the other way round.

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