Siobhan Baillie MP
I have spent over a decade talking to the fabulous founder of Finito about education and whether our various education systems get people work ready.
Since the pandemic, the country is also facing an urgent need to have a work ready population leaving school, college and university to boost the economy. And with over 1m job vacancies, businesses I visit often place recruitment and retention issues at the top of their concerns.
As part of their mission to grow the country, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are focused on ensuring people have every opportunity to train and retrain at all times of life.
But many young people still do not leave education prepared for work or the multiple job changes they are likely to have as technology forces us to adapt. Many families do not have the contacts to set up work experiences.
This is why, together with Ronel Lehmann of Finito Education, I have recently launched an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Future of Employability.
As an MP, I sometimes think back on the circumstances which led me to Westminster. I left home at 15, I left school at 17 and my prospects were frankly not great. I got a job as a legal secretary and then worked my way up to become a family law solicitor. It was hard graft to study while working full time, but worth it.
Throughout all of that I also took Saturday jobs, had a paper round, I waitressed in a pub and led dancing classes amongst other things. I taught aerobics and spinning to pay for law school. Every interaction with the public and endlessly getting things wrong in the full glare of real life was useful training. I learned a lot from the people I worked with too.
Yet this country still views on the job training, further education colleges and apprenticeships as inferior to university degrees. Many employers do not invest in training staff. In some areas work experience and careers guidance is poor or non-existent. Young people no longer work at the weekends or in school holidays.
How do we shift our thinking? The first thing might seem cosmetic but it would put rocket fuel under the issue. The Secretary of State for Education – currently the brilliant Gillian Keegan MP – could become the Secretary of State for Education and Employability.
Secondly, we need to really land the benefits of lifelong learning and remove barriers to retraining, including with fees for employers and employees. Making it easy for mothers, people who have been out of work due to illness and recently retired people to return to work at some level could be transformational for them and the country.
Thirdly, we need to value work experience. Employers are often faced with red tape when it comes to offering young people work placements. The confidence, learning and contacts you get from a real life day at work cannot be replicated online.
There will always be a place for education for its own sake, but I believe it would benefit millions of young lives if studies are undertaken with a sense of ultimate direction.
We will use the APPG to explore with businesses, organisations and think tanks what is making the UK underinvest in job related training and work experience opportunities. We need to interrogate brand new government initiatives like the lifelong learning loan entitlement and old problems like how the apprenticeship levy works for small and medium companies.
I am excited about the challenge.
The writer is the MP for Stroud