Posted on 3rd June 2021 at 11:50
From Our What’sUp? Workshop 2 June 2021
How can businesses improve the engagement of young people, so they can make the right choices?
Children in the UK are required to stay in formal education until the age of 18, which could be school, college, apprenticeship, approved trainee program or mixed formal scheme. That’s surely a good thing, isn’t it?
But many young people don’t cope well with a formal academic route, and many don’t thrive in it.
Employers also often complain that school or college leavers and graduates are frequently ill-equipped to deal with and contribute to life in a workplace.
Are we surprised?
The schools academic curriculum is focused on theory and far less so on real-world application, so without external influence, children just don’t get exposed to opportunities to use their knowledge and skills, and from personal experience of seeing young people coming into the industrial arena, many have grown up thinking that each subject skill is applied in isolation and labelled as a “subject”.
Also, the range of potential jobs, vocations and ways of making a living that young people are exposed to is limited to the experiences of their own circle of family and friends, and is often coloured by third party anecdote rather than potential opportunity.
And thirdly, having studied the theoretical to a high standard, the young person may feel that in gaining a balanced understanding, they are having to backtrack too far to develop the practical application skills and can feel this is demeaning.
Our Workshop discussions centre predominantly on manufacturing business, and manufacturing is where the theoretical and practical have the broadest combination across many “subjects” and through a significant range of competences.
Larger businesses may develop their own structured schemes and can offer work experience placements to children at school. With a larger workforce and more discrete organisational structure, it is easier for them to be able to provide a focused or simpler experience.
However, the smaller businesses are where young people could be exposed to a greater range of activities and be closer to the source of decision-making. For children who have no firm idea of what field they want to enter after formal education, these can be the breeding grounds to unlock interest, aspiration and nurture entrepreneurial spirit.
How can we enable smaller manufacturing businesses to provide this valuable service so that it is:
Safe for all
Not a huge investment in time and money
According to one of our panel members, they developed a strong working relationship with a teacher at a local school who was enthusiastic about industry links, and this enabled a series of school liaisons and placements to take place. This opened the eyes of several children to the possibilities that were within their grasp and gave them access to real people who had followed different paths and provided personal insight into their own experiences. It also enabled the business to share both the mundane and the exciting, giving the children a better understanding that it’s not all about flashing lights, loud noises and a roller-coaster ride, but sometimes (often) we have to do things that we don’t find exciting, but we appreciate better when we ask someone else to do them.
As far as health and safety is concerned, any business would have to carry out risk assessments, for the type of work they carry out, and consider the people involved or present, so this is no different. Young people are less risk aware, in general, through lack of experience, but I’ve seen personally that whilst they appear to be gung-ho about danger, put them in close proximity to something actually potentially hazardous that doesn’t appear on a video game, and they become a lot more circumspect, cautious and awed.
So, what can we do?
For a smaller manufacturing business there are several elements that are important:
Ethos – both you and your workforce team need to be interested in sharing your knowledge and experience with young people. You probably already have a team who work together well, and they should be proud of the business they help to develop and grow. Young people come from different backgrounds and have differing experiences, so having tolerance and patience towards them is extremely important, as is being firm and fair. However, it’s also important to discuss any concerns with the school or college so you are aware of and prepared for behavioural issues in advance.
Connection – sometimes schools, academies and colleges have someone dedicated to liaise with businesses for this purpose, but often the focus is on “safe” opportunities at bigger firms. However, making connection with individual teachers or department heads doesn’t hurt. Making connection with STEM Ambassadors is another way of building those relationships.
Time – you should be prepared to offer your own time and allow some of your staff to do so too.
Information – Allowing young people to ask questions and being able to answer honestly are great for stimulating their feeling that they’re no longer in a close-controlled environment. After all, in the real world, there isn’t always a right answer, only one answer or any defined answer, and errors do happen!
Planning – school life is very structured and regimented, so whilst you can curate their activity whilst they’re with you, don’t make it a rigid programme; targets happen in business, but timetables less so.
Doing – the last thing any young person would want is that life in a business is just about reading instructions or “learning”. So allow them to be involved. Personally, I would be happy to have a young person with me in a design review meeting who is encouraged (or even primed) to ask questions; we’re all learning.
Cost – whilst there is a cost to the business of lost productivity, a DBS check may be required, depending on the frequency and level of contact that your employees have with children. At June 2021, the cost of a basic DBS check was £23, but speak to the school or college, as they may organise this for you. However, the hidden and tangible benefits of helping to develop the next generation of your own workforce, with likely reduced training costs, and the benefits to your existing workforce to enthuse about their roles will more than offset the costs – if your accountant is concerned.
The one thing I believe that any young person would cherish is that they have personally added value to your business whilst they’ve been with you.
And that’s priceless.