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How to make young people ready for the workplace pt2


It's a story that's popping up across many different industries, but Kasmin Cooney has a few ideas of how to get the next generation workforce ready for action. Read part two of her feature here.

Start with the end in mind

  • Covey’s phrase ‘start with the end in mind’ is a good place to start. What do we want from our young people? Could we set up national forums, perhaps with the assistance of a forward thinking organisation such as the RSA, together with representatives at all levels of business and education? We need to understand what we need for different business sectors and roles, and what the current gaps are.

  • A collaborative approach to the curriculum. Yes, we do need to redesign the curriculum with the support of the business community. Much of what is learned in school may be interesting, but often useless in the workplace. Are we preparing young people for life, or to take exams? Many young people are passing exams but do they know what to do with any information their memory retains? Should we take another look at the balance between academia and vocational learning?

  • Please stop testing little people. Testing primary school children to the extend we are, surely cannot be good. I appreciate why we are doing this, but should we stop now we know it is not working? After all, the surveys show that young people are still coming into the workplace with poor literacy and numeracy skills, despite endless testing. And what about those little ones, who just don’t have it in them to be super-duper at taking exams. We are encouraging primary school children to define themselves by their exam results. Oh joy to read, Barrowford Primary School's letter encouraging little people to consider their all-round qualities. Not to make those children who didn’t do so well in exams feel better, but to start to bring out what each little child is good at. If a little person is made more self-aware of their natural qualities at a younger age, then perhaps they would have a better idea as 16-18 year olds, what they want to do with their lives. We might save employers the trouble of trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

  1. Develop a sense of identity and confidence. There is little doubt that a confident young adult with a sense of who they are, is more likely to be successful at the start of their work lives. But, do we leave the development of the whole person too late? Are young people given enough support to understand who they are and their innate qualities? This week I spoke to a parent who was concerned that their 15 year old knew nothing of how to prepare a CV.

  2. Involve parents. Part of the holistic solution absolutely must involve parents. Many schools are inviting parents to take short lessons for example on how to coach spelling and maths. Of course these are important but teaching children to self-manage, solve problems, take decisions, manage their personal budget, and understand what work is all about is also very much part of a parents job in preparing their kids for work. This model, supported by the use of elearning, is the way parents will make their kids more job-ready when the time comes.

  3. And finally...understand Generation Y. Our research shows that Generation Y is so very different from previous generations and yes, as the survey results show, Gen Y does expect more. Many have been nurtured and brought up to expect more from life, but isn’t this what progress is all about? Living in a world with access to global information at the push of a button, where they can be anywhere in 24 hours, build ‘000s internet relationships with people in all parts of the globe is bound to have an effect on young people’s expectations. But are business managers aware of this, do employers really appreciate how different this generation is? In my experience the answer is no, most don’t. Many businesses are using old-fashioned management methods to manage a generation that is so radically different to anything seen before in the workplace. In my view we have both sides misunderstanding the other.

In summary, yes we do need to educate our young people differently. Young people do need to understand more about the workplace, but at the same time, if we are going to achieve any real change, should we also get the business community to better understand young people? We need to shake education establishments into better collaboration and provide parents with the right tools and information to support a different type of process. After all, the stakes are high. With 58% of businesses interviewed reporting a skills shortage for their industry sector and 33% of these companies planning to recruit from overseas, time is of the essence. We cannot dither any longer.

Education and business communities need to come together to urgently address this situation, otherwise we are failing not just our young people, but the national as a whole.


Kasmin Cooney OBE is managing director of Righttrack Consultancy and a Fellow of the RSA. This is a subject close to her heart. In 1989, Kasmin was a volunteer on a business forum calling for change within the education establishment to look at this whole issue

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