Most businesses fear pandemic has exacerbated skills shortage – report

The Teach First report places the onus for alleviating the skills shortage on improved careers education, helping raising pupils’ awareness and aspirations

More than half of businesses (56%) fear that lost learning from the pandemic will aggravate the UK’s skills shortage, according to a report published today (15 June).

The figure is part of Rethinking careers education: investing in our country’s future, an investigation into the work-readiness of young people by education charity, Teach First.

While 48% of employers placed digital and IT proficiency among the top three skills they looked for in prospective young employees, more than half (52%) said they were concerned about levels of digital literacy in the current crop of school, college, and university leavers.

More broadly, nearly eight in 10 teachers (79%) fear that today’s pupils are less prepared for the world of work than school leavers in previous years.

A core element of alleviating the skills shortage lies in improved careers education, claims Teach First.

It reports strong backing for its demand that careers education should begin at the pre-secondary level, with 71% of primary schools teachers claiming that career-related learning would raise their pupils’ awareness of different career pathways.

Sixty-six percent say it would lift their students’ aspirations.

Read more: UK needs Future Skills Council to improve workforce employability, says report

“For too long, securing high quality careers advice and work experience has been a postcode lottery – that must change,” said Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First.

“With concerns over the cost-of-living crisis, and a potential recession later in the year, it’s vital that we do everything we can to give our young people the best possible chance to succeed and thrive in the world of work.”

The report says that technology also has a role to play in helping young people once they arrive in the workplace. Among its recommendations are that large employers should offer blended work experience programmes for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Whilst in-person work experience will continue to be crucial,” it says, “online options offer employers a chance to diversify their recruitment and widen participation, particularly to regions outside of London.

“Large employers should collect and publish socioeconomic background data to inform their outreach work with schools and recruitment policies. This will ensure disadvantaged pupils, who are far less likely to access work placements through their family networks, are helped to secure the same opportunities to vital careers knowledge and experience.”

The report also cites research showing that children receiving free school meals are twice as likely to not be in education, employment, or training at age 18-24 compared to those who are not.

Teach First is calling for the Department for Education’s (DfE) “welcome” commitment for a new careers programme for primary schools in disadvantaged areas to be augmented by an £8.5 million fund to trains and support the teachers working in them.

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