Almost 60% of employers believe their sector is facing a skills shortage and one third are considering looking abroad to bolster their workforce, according to new research published today by City & Guilds. Today’s (14th October) findings, published at the start of Work Experience Week, show employers find young people in Britain are leaving education without the right skills for the world of work.

The research, which gathered views from more than 1000 small, medium and large businesses, found that half of employers believe that the current education system does not meet the needs of business. More than 60% think that young people’s employment expectations are too high or that young people do not understand what employers are looking for. In addition, over half of employers would like to be more involved in developing qualifications to ensure a strong link between education and the needs of their businesses.

Employers who work in IT, Digital and Information Services (74%) and Engineering and Manufacturing (72%) are the most likely to see a skills shortage in their sectors. Strong core skills such as numeracy, literacy and communication are more valued in a potential candidate than academic qualifications, with the majority of employers (55%) saying they would hire someone without a degree.

High quality work experience puts young people in the strongest position for successfully finding a job. Almost 80% of employers believe that work experience is essential to ensure young people are ready for work while two thirds of employers (67%) would be more likely to hire a young person with work experience over someone with none.

Other key findings include:

  • 50% of employers have given a full-time job to someone they’ve taken on for work experience while only 28% of businesses recruited someone from a graduate placement scheme.
  • A huge majority of employers (71%) of employers believe that structured work experience should be mandatory for all 16-18 year olds.
  • Young people with work experience are thought to be more employable because:
    • They understand the work environment better and how to conduct themselves in it (77%)
    • They have a better attitude towards work and learning on the job (70%)
    • They have a better understanding of industry/ know what they are getting into (66%)

Despite this, the survey found that over 40% of businesses do not currently work with local schools or colleges to attract new talent. 60% of employers said they remain uncertain on how to deliver the most effective work experience placements and would welcome guidelines and support.

Commenting on the report Chris Jones, CEO and Director-General of City & Guilds said: “This research has huge implications for the Government’s attempts to curb youth unemployment, which still lags at around one million. But the issue is not simply a lack of job opportunities. There is a more fundamental problem with the qualifications, core skills and lack of understanding of the workplace that is preventing young people from successfully finding employment.

It is clear that a step change is needed in the education system to move away from a pure focus on academia towards a curriculum that meets the needs of employers. That’s why we have embedded a work experience placement into our City & Guilds TechBac® which is launching next year. Businesses, the education system and policy makers need to step up and give every young person the opportunity to have high quality work experience placements whilst they are at school or college. Only then will we equip our young people with the skills they need to be the successful workforce of the future that our economy demands.”

Tony Moloney, Head of UK Education & Skills, National Grid, said: “It comes as no surprise to me that this research reveals such high skills shortages among engineering employers or that work experience is viewed as so crucial by employers. Three years ago we embarked on a programme, Engineering our Future, which aims to educate and inspire young people about the opportunities available in the engineering sector.  Work experience is central to this programme and it has delivered fantastic results for National Grid. I strongly believe that there needs to be collaboration between employers, politicians and the education community to help prepare young people for the world of work. So, it’s great to see City & Guilds call for employers and Government to step-up.”

City & Guilds has produced an employers’ checklist for successful work placements which advises the following best practice:

  • A comprehensive induction to help the person on work experience to settle in.
  • Assigning a mentor or buddy to the learner to help them develop new skills and have new experiences.
  • Plan the learner’s workload and give them real work so they contribute to the business and feel valued. Ensure the work will stretch and develop them.
  • Provide regular feedback and check on progress.
  • Find time to liaise with the learner’s course director in their school or college

From September 2014, City & Guilds will also be offering a new TechBac® programme of study, which will have structured work experience as a key part of the overall study programme.