How well are you preparing your students for the workplace?


With global youth unemployment rising, how well are you preparing your students to be able to compete in the 21st century jobs market? Karen Sullivan takes a look.

The latest Global Employment Trends for Youth report, compiled by the International Labour Organisation, makes for sobering reading. Some 73.4 million young people around the world are expected to be unemployed in 2013 – a scenario that is predicted to get worse.

I’m struggling to get a handle on how our government, our Department for Education and, indeed, our schools propose to address this crisis. All current and proposed government policy is aimed at key academic subjects. It goes without saying that we all want UK students to be bright, literate, numerate and knowledgeable. It also goes without saying that we want every suitable student to have the option of further education. 

However, it seems to me that we are overlooking the fact that producing a generation of university-educated students with (potentially) few practical workplace skills, a crippling debt, no obvious job prospects, and a sense of entitlement (I’ve got a degree so I’m not flipping burgers) isn’t going to help anyone at all.

We need to start considering how to prepare our students for an ever-changing workplace by providing them not just with the skills they will need to build up a portfolio of work options, but also encouraging them to develop something of an entrepreneurial spirit, confident and able to assess a need for products and services in a global economy in order to create their own niche. 

If youth unemployment is going to be a problem, we need to find ways to ensure that the youth in question can climb their way out of this situation, and build their own futures.

As a starting point, I would suggest that every single student is encouraged to learn and communicate in at least one other language. This not only offers the opportunity of working in said global marketplace, but also provides greater options for travel to countries where youth employment is on the rise. 

Our students need to learn practical skills: how to use IT programmes; how to build and service a website; how to write and present a business plan; how to cook, design a menu, care for older people and children, coach sport, learn first aid, budget, fix a photocopier, manage time, communicate effectively in both written and spoken word, paint a wall – you get the picture. Mastery builds confidence; the opportunity to learn a wide range of skills sparks imagination, encourages self-development, promotes an exchange of ideas that could lead to development of industry that befits the current economic climate and platform, and jobs within it, and also makes our students truly useful.

Too often we’ve heard leaders of British business bemoan the fact that our GCSE, A level and university graduates are unprepared for the workplace. Does it not make more sense, then, to give them preparation? I’ve often said that the worker of the future is a portfolio worker, able to turn his or her hand to anything in order to carve a career and stay in work.

From a psychological point of view, this type of preparation promotes self-awareness, goal-setting, decision-making and personal growth. Most importantly, it encourages hope, because students are encouraged to take their lives and futures into their own hands.

Whether these skills are taught as an adjunct to existing subjects, in PSHE, in clubs, or in the community with willing businesses, matters not. It is possible to ensure that every student has at least six or seven new skills by the time they leave school, and undertaking the learning of these will also play a role in sparking young minds, relieving the stress of exams and giving hope for the future. Our youth are dispirited, and rightly so. Anything we can do to shift the mind-set and provide a positive path forward should be undertaken.

  • Karen Sullivan is a best-selling author, psychologist and childcare expert. Email


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