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Employer engagement in England’s education system not meaningful

Businesses in England should move on from bemoaning the lack of young people’s skills and push for ‘employer engagement’ in education to become meaningful, according to a new report from IPPR published today.

The report will be launched on Tuesday. At 9.45am government minister Nick Boles will be giving a speech at IPPR on the reform of 14-19 education. As the government continues with plans to raise the compulsory participation age in education or training to 18 in 2015, IPPR’s report highlights that there must be sufficient focus on the pathway for those young people who do not follow an academic route and do not enroll on the limited number of apprenticeships which are available for 16-18 year olds. The report also highlights the importance of a high-quality, consistent vocational college or school-based route and pulls out examples from Netherlands, who have a strong, interchangeable college and apprenticeship-based vocational education system with a clear, simple structure for bringing together employers and educationalists.

The report shows that other countries with similar economies, such as the Netherlands, have shown it is possible to bridge the gap between employers and education by creating strong, simple mechanisms for engaging both sides in a consistent way. Employers are engaged consistently in qualification design and in offering apprenticeships and work placements for young people, helping them to move more smoothly from education to work or further study. The report also shows that the Netherland’s education system has been credited as one of the main factors behind their strong youth unemployment figures and smoother transition from education into work.

 Latest comparative OECD figures show the United Kingdom's NEET rate (not in education, employment or training) for 15-19 year olds at 9.5 percent compared to just 2.4 percent for the same age group in the Netherlands. The report also focuses on Australia where levels of participations by young people are better than England, again largely attributed to strong coordination of apprenticeships and vocational education through group training organisations. The report also shows that achieving ‘parity of esteem’ between all vocational and academic qualifications and subjects is a misguided aim, suggesting that the equal status of groups of qualifications is prioritised over ensuring that all routes available to young people are strong and relevant. The report further suggests that it is important to achieve clarity about the purpose of 14-19 education – including what we expect a young person to have achieved when reaching the new higher age of participation and ensuring structures are in place to involve employers in education in a defined, relevant and simple way.

Louise Evans, IPPR Senior Research Fellow, said, “As we enter 2015 – the year when 18 year olds in England will be required to participate in education and training for the first time – it is important that we learn from other similar economies, such as the Netherlands and Australia, who have better rates of participation and youth unemployment. Our research shows that these countries have clearer transition systems from education to work, particularly supported by strong vocational education for young people. “This means moving on from further, isolated qualification reform. We need strong college-based vocational route alongside further apprenticeships, all supported by simple, strong structures to involve employers in this phase of education.”

The report further recommends: That any reform of education for 14-19 year olds must focus on improving the vocational and technical path; That future reforms in England should focus on changing the wider system rather than focusing excessively on changing the structure and content of qualifications. Focus on stronger provision in colleges to ensure than there are high quality pathways for all young people

That the VET system is supported by strong, simple and stable institutions to bring together employers, providers and the state – to help turn ‘employer engagement’ into something consistent and structured. The report also focuses on other success stories from countries with similar economies who have a strong connection between employers and trainees:

 MBO training in the Netherlands:

After the age of 16, the majority of students (55 per cent) follow the VET route (known as MBO). MBO training can take place on two different pathways – BOL (school based training) where students typically spend four days a week in college and one day an employer on work placement and BBL (work based training) where  students typically spend four days a week on work placement and one day at college. The Netherlands has developed a series of ‘knowledge centres’ to help co-ordinate the relationship between employers and educationalists in VET. Their remit is to promote skills development in certain sectors of the economy.

Group training organisations in Australia:

 In Australia, a network of Group Training Organisations (GTOs) makes it easier for employers to engage in the apprenticeship system. GTOs recruit and employ apprentices, and then arrange for their training with particular employersTraining levies in the Netherlands– There are over 100 sectoral training levies in the Netherlands, known as Training and Development Funds (TDFs). The TDFs are used to support specific training to meet short-term sectoral needs of employers and therefore are not usually involved in initial VET for young people.

According to a new international study carried out by market researchers IPSOS and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase, the global leader in the office furniture industry, office workers  are increasingly in need of more choice and control over how they work.

Data collected by Steelcase shows that employees are desperately seeking privacy within open plan settings, where they can function effectively and complete work without being driven to distraction. People are increasingly in need of more choice and control over how they work. Less than half 41 percent says they have the opportunity to undertake important work privately. This does not mean that workers are looking to turn back the clock to the days when they were boxed into closed individual offices. Modern workers enjoy the buzz of the open plan office but are seeking peaceful retreats within them. It is also worth noting that  people have very individual ideas of what privacy means.  As an output of the research Steelcase were able to identify five key privacy needs for office workers:-

1. STRATEGIC ANONYMITY: Being unknown or “invisible” for a while in order to avoid normal social distractions and restraints. The opportunity to become invisible for a time is a key aspect of privacy. Going off radar makes workers feel that they are free of the restraints which come with normal social surveillance and which detract from concentration. Workers may choose to go to a café to get focused work done by blocking the social distractions of the workplace.

2. SELECTIVE EXPOSURE: Choosing what others see by being selective about the personal information and behaviours that we reveal.
Today, as personal information is being shared across new channels, new questions are being raised about privacy and  what is “safe” to divulge. While the decision to share information involves the weighing of benefits and risks, the choice varies from person to person.  Examples of selective sharing can be opting for a telephone call instead of a video conference or choosing which personal items to display in a workstation.

3. ENTRUSTED CONFIDENCE : Sharing information confidentially within a trusting relationship. These workers need to have the opportunity to build up confidentiality where they feel that they must discuss a personal situation with a colleague or when in a performance review with their manager.

4. INTENTIONAL SHIELDING:Protecting yourself from others’ sight lines to avoid being observed or distracted, or to develop a personal point of view without the influence of others. Many office workers like to create a personal space using earphones to block out audio distractions or sitting back against a wall.

5. PURPOSEFUL SOLITUDE:Physically separating yourself from co-workers in order to concentrate, recharge, express emotions, rejuvenate or engage in personal activities. People in individualistic cultures, such as the UK, may take times of solitude almost for granted, but even within a collectivist culture, such as China, being alone is a fundamental need. These workers appreciate quiet spaces within the office or sit in the farthest empty corner of a large room.

Businesses and organisations are now facing the biggest challenge for a generation as they are asked to incorporate private spaces into office design. “People not only expect privacy in their private lives – they want it at the office as well”, say Bostjan Ljubic, of Steelcase. ”For people to collaborate with their colleagues more effectively they need less ‘we’ time and more ‘me’ time than they are getting today.” “Because people experience privacy in these different ways, the key is to design a workplace that supports them all”, explains Ljubic. “Workplaces dominated by enclosed offices won’t solve the engagement problem. The best way to support today’s workers is to provide the ability to move between individual time and collaborative time, fully leveraging the power of the workplace to strengthen satisfaction and engagement.”

The Steelcase-IPSOS research shows that companies and organisations, while committed to creating efficient, collaborative spaces, have not been considering privacy sufficiently in the design of their offices. Steelcase contends that it is necessary to create an ‘ecosystem’ of different spaces where employees can choose the level of privacy they require. “Many offices have limited options such as individual workstations, private offices, conference rooms and a cafe”, explains Ljubic. “Some people find it inspiring and creative to work in a crowded, noisy environment whereas others prefer quieter spaces and quite often they want a mix of both. The workplace needs to offer a variety of public and private spaces – for We and I work.”

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