North East school leavers not ready for work, new survey suggests

The region's young people are not ready for the world of work, a study among employers claims

Val Wigham Head teacher at Studio West in West Denton, Newcastle
Val Wigham Head teacher at Studio West in West Denton, Newcastle

School leavers are unprepared for the world of work, according to 83% of the region’s employers.

Findings from a North East survey of businesses show that more than three-quarters of firms report a lack of work experience as one of the key reasons young people are not employable.

A third of businesses believe young people also lack workplace skills such as communication and team working, a study by the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) has suggested.

However, half admitted they did not offer work experience placements themselves.

NECC director of policy Ross Smith said a better working relationship between schools and businesses was needed to tackle the region’s conundrum between youth unemployment and skill shortages.

He said: “Links between education and business are essential to ensure we are producing young people who are ready to fill roles within the North East labour market and are comfortable in the working environment.

“Likewise, we must take the fear out of employing, training or simply giving experience to young people. According to this survey, businesses see this as costly, time-consuming and restrictive – this must be addressed.

“A great deal of progress has been made in recent years, but we must continue to work hard if we are to make significant in-roads into addressing regional youth unemployment and potential skills shortages in key sectors in our region.”

More than 60% of firms that offer work experience said it was because they were committed to the local area. A further 64% said preparing the future workforce was a key motivation.

More than three quarters of firms agreed that training was worthy of investment but the main barrier to providing training for over half of businesses was cost.

Ross Smith
Ross Smith

Newcastle’s Studio West, which opened in September, guarantees students a place at university, a job or an apprenticeship.

Designed to be more like a workplace than a school, it has close links to the North East business community and runs a curriculum including real life projects set by companies.

The school has its own business engagement manager, Sam McLoughlin, who works with local firms to provide regular work placements for the students.

He believes state-run secondary schools’ attitudes to work experience are outdated and must provide greater flexibility.

“Secondary schools have always provided that inflexible week where children have to undertake work experience,” he said. “But when you’re working with businesses you have to be more flexible than that.

“Sometimes you have to take time out of your curriculum and work with the employers to find out what they want and what works well for them.

“Once you have that relationship the school can provide the right student for the right placement. Otherwise you fall into the trap of sending a student somewhere for a week to photocopy files or laminate documents.

“I’m not a teacher, I’m a middle man that helps bridge the gap between businesses and pupils. It’s a lot to ask teachers, with their workloads, to take on.

“I think a business governor on secondary school boards would help increase business engagement.”

The British Chambers of Commerce survey of 3,000 firms found nine out of 10 thought school leavers were not ready for employment, and more than half said it was the same with graduates.

The chamber said assessments of educational establishments should include information about employment as well as exam results.

BCC director general John Longworth said: “This isn’t about pointing the finger at young people – it is a joint responsibility between businesses, the education system and government to provide the right skills and support that young people need to make it in the world of work.

“It is vital that we proactively build a pipeline of young talent who will go on to become the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs, as failure to do so could damage the UK’s future growth prospects and risk a lost generation of young people.”


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