How work-ready are your students?

Written by: Dr Elnaz Kashefpakdel | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

A free toolkit has been launched to help schools target their careers provision more effectively and determine which students need additional support to help prepare them for today’s workplace. Dr Elnaz Kashefpakdel explains

The link between schools and the world of work is a hotly debated subject. A survey from the CBI and Pearson published in July stated: “Well over half of all firms fear that there will not be enough people available with the skills needed to fill their high-skilled jobs.”

The problem doesn’t end there. Research from the charity Education and Employers (Contemporary Transitions, January 2017) shows that more than half of young adults (53 per cent) wished their schools had better prepared them for the world of work. Just under half (47 per cent) would have liked more support in how to find out what different jobs require in terms of skills, attitudes and qualifications.

In the CBI report, businesses acknowledge that they have a responsibility to help prepare young people for employment. Likewise, schools are rising to the challenge of improving careers guidance, too. But funding and resourcing these activities when budgets are tight is a real issue.

A new, free toolkit from Education and Employers can help schools to make their careers provision more effective, by giving a better understanding how work-ready students are, and helping schools to tailor careers activity so that it meets the needs of those who most require it.

The toolkit consists of a questionnaire and scoring system, along with a guidance sheet, that schools can use in a number of ways.

The first question to address is how schools can better help their students become work-ready. Here are a few suggestions...

Start early and repeat often

Our research shows that the more engagement students have with employers while at school, the more likely they are to stay in education and training after age 16, and to be earning more by their mid-20s – up to £2,000-a-year on average.

Employer engagement doesn’t have to mean intensive work placements; something as straight-forward as careers talks in a classroom or to a year group can fire imaginations and raise aspirations. And it’s never too early to start. Research also shows that employer engagement generally has a greater impact on 14 to 15-year-olds than on older students.

Skills reflection

Make sure students use careers activities to reflect on their own skills. When sitting down to write a CV or UCAS statement, students will benefit from being able to give examples of when they have used skills such as problem-solving, communication or team-working in a work setting. Helping them to reflect on and identify instances when they put those skills to use can help to build confidence and work-readiness.

Seeing the relevance

Help young people to see the relevance of their education. Do teachers know which students are interested in a career in their subject? Do they talk to them about different jobs in their area, or encourage them to find out more? Do they invite professionals from the world of work in to talk to students? Every teacher can play a role in helping young people to see the relevance of their studies and inspiring them to follow the path that is right for them.

Target resources effectively

While some students have no idea what they want to do when they leave education, others will have a clear direction, if not career, in mind.

Having an overview of each student’s aspirations can enable schools to target resources more effectively – for instance, targeting careers talks or workplace visits to students who have an interest in a particular area. Likewise, understanding how work-ready students are can help schools to focus support on those who most need it.

The toolkit can help in a number of ways. Developed by Education and Employers and funded by the Commercial Education Trust, it is based on an extensive review of UK research that linked teenage attitudes and experiences of the world of work with improved economic outcomes as adults.

Reflective learners

The toolkit was trialled last year by six schools, including Pimlico Academy. Lin Proctor, the school’s raising aspiration director, told us that they are using the questionnaire with students after they attend careers-related events to help them identify the skills they have used.

She explained: “For instance, during a workplace visit, students may be working in teams or using problem-solving skills, but they may not recognise this. We want them to be able to articulate and explain how this will benefit them in a workplace environment. The questionnaire helps us to identify which students get it, and which need more support.

“If they want to go on to a higher-level Apprenticeship, for instance, they need to be able to give examples about how they have worked through a practical problem or used communication skills.

Using the questionnaire helps them to be more self-aware of how they are developing and using these skills.”

She continued: “What we’ve found is that the more work-related activities they do, the better they become at identifying the skills they are developing. The toolkit gives us the evidence to support that, and to see where the gaps are.”

Baseline data

Another school that has used the survey is Addey and Stanhope School in Lewisham. Jake Armstrong, work-related learning and pathways lead at the school, said: “The survey was helpful in giving us a baseline for our careers strategy. We will use it to decide what kind of events we put on and to target provision to groups of students.”

The school has gone a step further, adapting and expanding the survey to capture more information about the students. Mr Armstrong continued: “We are calling it an aspiration survey, which we will use with students at the beginning of the year. This covers things like what interests them at school, opportunities they have at home, post-16 options.”

This allows the school to group students by their areas of interest and tailor opportunities for them.

For example, if there are a number of students with an interest in medicine, the school will invite a range of medical professionals in for a careers talk and those students will be encouraged to attend.
They could also help those students to find work experience placements for students in a medical setting.

Staff will use the survey to help choose options at GCSE. Mr Armstrong added: “Knowing their career goals allows us to have frank and open discussions about subject choices, and what they need to achieve if they are going to succeed. I think we need to have more honest conversations with students. We don’t want to set anyone up to fail.”

The questionnaire is available to download so that schools can tailor and use it as is appropriate. By putting the questions into an online survey format like Survey Monkey, which is free to use, schools can quickly and easily view the responses in a spreadsheet and start to identify trends.

For schools wanting to increase their employer engagement, Education and Employers also offers a free online service, Inspiring the Future, that helps schools to find volunteers to support careers activity – everything from a 15-minute careers talk to mentoring and job-shadowing.

  • Dr Elnaz Kashefpakdel is head of research at Education and Employers

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