London ,

Telegraph op-ed. Employers should make soft skills in school their business

A recent British of Chamber of Commerce (BCC) survey reported that the nine out of ten firms think school-leavers are ill-prepared for the workplace. City Corporation Policy Chairman Mark Boleat explains that businesses need to work more closely with schools to address the skills gap.

As the economy steadily recovers, business confidence is on the rise, so it is concerning that the majority of surveyed companies feel that the future workforce lacks essential employability skills. While the education system is clearly a key place for a curriculum that nurtures pupils’ soft skills, it is businesses that can really add value when it comes to educating young people about the workplace.

The survey revealed that companies felt that young people lacked workplace skills such as team work, while 50% of employers said young people didn’t even have a grasp on basic communication. This skills gap is largely down to work-experience opportunities being patchy across UK schools: some do it very well, but others do not have strong links with the business community, so pupils don’t get enough exposure to the work environment.

This is problem for business and business needs to take responsibility for fixing it. For example, state schools in deprived areas are much less likely than public schools to deliver alumni programmes, meaning young people do not have role models who can share tips on how to get ahead in their careers. Disappointingly, half of the companies surveyed by the BCC admitted to not offering work-experience placements. I strongly feel that it is businesses that need to make the first move and go beyond offering token placements that revolve around photocopying and making the coffee. Instead, they need to get out into the community and forge meaningful relationships with schools. Providing one-to-one mentoring, offering tours of live working environments and workshops, is where businesses can support careers advice.

I represent the business interests of the Square Mile and work with many boroughs on this issue, so am acutely aware of this ‘soft’ skills gap. A school-leaver’s prospects in the job market dramatically improves if he or she has a handle on key skills such as self-discipline, self-management, independence, delayed gratification, (not expecting immediate reward for hard work) and managing their own personal impact. It is employers who need to demonstrate to schools how to attain these disciplines.

In the City of London more and more employers are engaged with schools in nearby communities because they see the potential for sourcing and developing talent. PwC, one of the Big Four accountancy and business advisory firms, runs a robust employability programme involving mentoring in schools, and it offers a large number of school-leaver vacancies with the opportunity to gain professional qualifications.

Or take a meeting at Société Générale’s headquarters, where it was hosting visiting primary school pupils and giving them a chance to meet management staff and practice handshakes and postures. These interactions may seem small but they teach children from an early age how to operate and feel comfortable in a professional setting - which is a huge advantage in later life.

At the City of London Corporation, we back a number of programmes aimed at encouraging these business interactions with schools. City Careers Open House organises tours for pupils into businesses such as BT and Allen & Overy. The Future First programme establishes alumni communities in state schools, providing young people with valuable role models who can be an essential source of advice on the workplace and employability.

Lambeth teenager Jamila Dahoum, a recent recipient of our City of London Corporation’s Business Traineeship Award, says her work experience at UBS developed her confidence and her ability to communicate with senior figures. It is this early exposure to the workplace that is needed in London schools and the UK as a whole.

At a time when careers advice services is changing, businesses need to step into the breach, offer support to schools and ensure that they are playing an active role in developing the skills of the future workforce.

Mark Boleat is Policy Chairman of the elected City of London Corporation.

Media contact: Rachel Mortell

Tel-020 7332 1528