We must focus on young people’s skills to solve the current jobs mismatch

You’d be forgiven for thinking there are no job opportunities at all for our young people today if you focused on current headlines. But I think that there’s a big issue here that is getting too little attention. What if there are jobs there that organisations can’t fill because applicants just don’t have the right skills?

According to a recent survey by Hays and the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), that’s precisely what is happening in a large number of cases: employers are struggling to recruit because they are being swamped by applications from people who don’t hold the right skills or qualifications.

The survey found that three quarters (73%) of organisations have highlighted an increase in the number of unsuitable candidates, a problem exacerbated by the sheer weight of applications.

Claire McCartney, resourcing and planning adviser at CIPD, explains the significance of the findings: ‘Headlines focus on high levels of unemployment, but those stark statistics mask an ongoing struggle for employers… Shortages of specialist and technical skills run the risk of slamming an unwelcome brake on the long-term competitiveness of the UK economy.’

Keen to plug this gap, skills minister John Hayes recently announced plans to ‘sweep away the red tape’ deterring employers from taking on apprentices. He has also urged colleges and training organisations to work more closely with businesses to understand the importance of skills – and identify where the real gaps are. By focusing on the skills needs of individual sectors, so the argument appears to go, our educational institutions can re-engineer courses to cater for them.

Would that it were as simple as that. When set against a backdrop of the number of young unemployed people approaching the one million mark combined with increased competition for university places and rising tuition fees, the prospects for our young people has never been more uncertain, or more frightening.

The good news is that young people aged between 16 and 19 can, at least, still access state education. We must, however, steer them to vocational courses that can set them on a path to sustainable employment. For most, that means understanding the local labour market.

How do we make sure that young people are able to seek guidance from those with a working knowledge of the local labour market? For Groundwork and its partners, this is the main focus of our employment staff. By working with young people to get local jobs and provide them with skills and qualifications they need we can empower them to make informed life choices at a critical stage in their early adult years. Last year, Groundwork provided 85,550 weeks of training and supported more than 13,500 people to gain qualifications.

The practical work experience that we were able to provide 6,300 young people over 18 months through the Future Jobs Fund has offered all of the participants new confidence, encouraged them to undertake further training and, in some cases, has them led directly into full time paid work.

Our involvement in Community Task Force (CTF) programme was all about working with those furthest removed from the labour market, finding work experience placements with local and committed employers and enabling those individuals to overcome barriers of confidence, skills and experience that were barring them from employment.

Groundwork was able to offer personalised support to all those referred to us through the CTF programme. We have always stated that this is what makes the difference in helping someone find a permanent job.

Christopher Holborrow, 20, from Aberystwyth used to find that gaining experience employers would recognise was a major challenge.

Recalling how his morale was knocked when he used to send out up to 14 CVs at a time and not get a single reply, Christopher believes that, thanks to his CTF adviser, he has rebuilt his confidence with the help given to find work experience in which he was interested.

Groundwork has been operating in the labour market for three decades now, working with many partners, and our long history shows us that if someone can have personalised support – even for a very short time – they can very often find a route to employment. The same approach can be applied to skills.

It’s scandalous that there are jobs going unfilled when so many are out of work. You can’t tell me that all one million young people who are unemployed are unwilling to get training and qualifications.

There are jobs, maybe not a million, but every sector has vacancies they can’t fill at the moment. There is money: the Skills Funding Agency is there to fund the training providers. What needs to happen right now is matching our young people with training that meets local market need.

Lots of us in the third sector are onto this – because we’re serious about the country’s ability to compete in a global market, and we know that sustainable jobs are crucial in tackling poverty and lack of aspiration.


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