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Bridging the millennial soft skills gap

The growing concern over UK productivity has led many to focus on the UK ‘skills shortage’ and what can be done to close the gap. 

The Bank of England’s latest employment report highlights that in July and August 2015 the percentage of companies reporting recruitment difficulties was the highest it has been since 2005. The main reason given for these difficulties was a shortage of applicants possessing essential skills. The skills shortage isn’t new; it has been a growing concern in the UK for many years. Research by the not-for-profit organisation, Engineering UK, showed that if 182,000 skilled workers were hired per year, by 2020 UK Gross Domestic Product would increase by £27bn. The question we, as directors, educators and parents should be asking is how can we work together to equip students with the right set of skills for the workplace?

As the speed of change in business grows ever faster it is apparent that the current education system is struggling to meet the rising number of demands placed on it by business. Technological advancement means that students have increasingly less time, from completion of higher and further education or training, to arrival in the workplace, to gain confidence, experience, skills and knowledge before their education and training goes out of date. The corporate transition needs to be simplified; it is unfair to expect students to be able to adapt and thrive in the working world at such a pace with little to no emphasis placed on the right skills during their school years.

This view is corroborated by research findings published by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in its Education and Skills Survey 2015. 61 percent of employers said they were concerned about young people’s understanding of soft skills and half felt that schools should do more to develop awareness of working life among students aged 14 to19 years. Bearing in mind the time, money and effort invested in the UK education system, we must begin to measure its effectiveness in delivering a future workforce that employers consider to be capable and competent. Academic achievements alone are insufficient to support a student’s transition from study to the workplace. The International Baccalaureate’s (IB) newest offering, the Career-related Programme (CP), aims to bridge the gap between academic rigour, industry related learning and the development of key soft skills, which include the ability to work as part of a team, solve problems, manage time and communicate effectively.

Taught in over 100 schools in 14 different countries across the world, the CP is available for students aged 16 to18, and engages them with a programme that genuinely interests them. Packaging together a career-related study (for example a BTEC), at least two IB Diploma Programme (DP) courses and four unique ‘core’ components (personal and professional skills; service learning; language development; and a reflective project), the programme empowers students to become self-confident, skilled and career-ready learners.

I recently spoke to Paul Luxmoore, Executive Head Teacher of Dane Court Grammar and King Ethelbert School, Kent, both of which offer CP to students; he said: “The CP is the only post 16 offering of its kind globally. Students are required to adopt a variety of styles of learning which prepare them much more effectively for the range of options available after they have left school. The real beauty of the programme, of course, is that it can be tailored to be industry specific.” Luxmoore shared a typical example of how the CP approach works in practice. A student preparing to read finance or accountancy at university, or hoping to progress straight into employment as a junior accountant, might incorporate the following in to their CP programme: an IFS School of Finance diploma; IB DP business, maths and economics courses; and the CP ‘core’ studies.

It makes sense to introduce a study programme that combines the development of these essential soft skills with a student’s prescribed learning, rather than avoiding their acquisition until entering the world of work, where young people will be faced with employers who expect and need more. Developing well-rounded young people, armed with the responsibility and resilience to adapt and succeed in the workplace, should be a priority if they, and our national productivity, are to have the chance to thrive. 

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