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Primary Education News
News Young people need more than just GCSEs in the workplace | Nick Hurd
It is extracurricular programmes such as National Citizen Service that develop the soft skills required by employers
As every parent of teenagers knows, it is exam results season. A-levels are behind us. Today, a younger group will experience the same sense of hope, fear and expectation as they find out how they did in their GCSEs. Whether these young people enter a recovering but uncertain job market at 16, 18, or later, they know they will be judged on their academic results.
However employers are also telling us that they are looking for something else when it comes to an interview or an application form: something that is harder to put a finger on. The HR director of a FTSE 100 company described it to me as "character". According to the CBI, employability now consists of developing skills beyond literacy and numeracy. They cite people skills, self-reliance, teamwork, resilience, the ability to communicate well. These are the so-called soft skills that are increasingly important in the modern workplace. In a recent survey of employers, more than 60% said that they did not feel school or college leavers are developing the self-management skills they need for work.
In talking about this I have been attacked for blaming youth unemployment on a lack of "grit" in young people. This is a gross misrepresentation of the point I am making. Employers are expressing concern about work readiness and telling us that employability skills are increasingly important. We should listen to them.
This matters enormously at a time when we have had far too many young people out of work. To talk about it is not an attack on young people. We are simply wasting too much potential and all elements of society should be thinking about how we can make sure that young people benefit from the recovery in the jobs market.
The mainstream policy debate quite rightly centres on schools and the traditional pathways to employment. This government is implementing an ambitious agenda to raise standards; hugely expanding the number of apprenticeships and transforming vocational training. What I have been talking about is an agenda that complements this: extracurricular activities that give young people the opportunity to stretch themselves, raise their levels of confidence and develop key employability skills.
When he became leader of the Conservative party, David Cameron talked about the need to help young people make a more effective transition to adulthood. Since then we have developed a programme called National Citizen Service. Designed for 16- and 17-year-olds, it mixes together young people from different backgrounds, and involves three weeks of team-building skills while living away from home, then returning to design and run a social action project in their community. So far over 30,000 young people have taken part and we expect that to at least double this year. I have spoken to many NCS graduates over the years and I am always struck by the similarity of what they say, usually "I never thought I could do that" or "I never thought I'd meet people like this". In my experience it can transform how a young person sees themselves, and it is hard to put a value on that.
NCS is of course not the only scheme helping young people to develop skills that will be useful in the future. The Scouts, Guides and Duke of Edinburgh awards have all been doing similar things for a very long time. But there are other relative newcomers such as City Year, Envision and vInspired who we are supporting young people develop through extracurricular activities.
Programmes like these are not a silver bullet, but if government, schools and employers can work with them effectively, I believe that they can add huge value to a young person's CV. That is why we are supporting the Campaign for Youth Social Action, which has cross-party support. It wants to double the number of young people involved in social action and make these valuable opportunities much more available at key points of transition in a young person's journey to adulthood.
I am not in the business of criticising young people. As a father of school-age children, I am painfully aware that our young people are growing up in an ever more complex and competitive world. We must be able to have a proper discussion about how government, the private sector and civil society can do a better job of helping them to build their confidence and achieve their potential in life.