Better communication between schools and businesses is key to ensuring more jobs and economic growth in the North East, the new leader of employers’ body the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said.
Dianne Sharp, who was named as the North East director for the organisation last week, says preparing children as young as primary school age will go a long way towards equipping the workforce of the future.
In support of The Journal’s Proud to Back Apprenticeships campaign, Ms Sharp said it was “vital” for business to be involved in young people’s education.
She said: “It’s important that young people are excited about where they work and apprenticeships are a great way of doing this. Not only do they get educational grounding, but they also get experience in the work place.
“It’s never too early to get young people inspired about going to work. In my first meeting with our members here in the North East, there was an overarching concern that schools are not equipping young people with the skills they need to enter the workforce.
“There is still a debate as to how well structured the schools are to pick up this careers agenda. Careers advice in school is something that perhaps needs further development.
“I would also actively encourage businesses to send staff into schools to help young people learn the world of work. If we do, we can create a step change in the quality of recruits our schools are turning out.”
Ms Sharp, who will officially take up her role as director of the CBI in June, has some 25 years direct business experience, more recently as managing director of Northumberland-headquartered pharmaceutical company SCM Pharma.
She previously led Bishop Auckland-based Mechetronics to establish operations in China and India and is also a qualified accountant with an MBA from Durham University Business School.
SCM Pharma is currently looking at high-skilled apprenticeships for young people looking for a career in the pharmaceutical industry.
Ms Sharp says it is important to give a “rounded industry education” in a variety of skills.
“There isn’t such a thing as a job for life any more,” she said. “Skills need to be transferable, which is why apprenticeships should not be company-specific.”
She added that the education and training landscape is changing.
Factors such as rising university tuition fees, youth unemployment and skill shortages in certain sectors are causing companies to look closely at their recruitment programmes to determine the most efficient and effective method of finding and employing staff.
Apprenticeships in particular have been put in the spotlight with the Government investing more money into helping employers take on their own apprentice.
With six out of 10 young people not going to university, greater focus is also needed on both the quality and accessibility of alternative routes into employment, Ms Sharp said.
“The rising cost of going to university and the prospect of not being able to pay off their student debt in their own lifetime has perhaps unsurprisingly put them off going to university,” she said.
“Businesses are trying to use this opportunity to engage much more with schools and support the education agenda to fulfil their needs.
“It’s important that we support the region’s schools and colleges to produce young people who are ready for the world of work.”
Research released by Barclays showed that small businesses are half as likely to take on an apprentice compared with large organisations.
The main barrier that is preventing small businesses from getting involved is the fear of time it takes to set up an apprenticeship programme and the additional support that the individual would need. In particular, 39% of smaller companies cite red tape as the most significant barrier.
“A lot of small businesses find it difficult to really engage with apprenticeships,” said Ms Sharp.
“They often say that the administration and time can be a barrier. This is where skills councils, such as Semta, can help.”