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Greg Evans

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Two heads are better than one

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Centrica's Greg Evans talks about the vital role employers must play in helping school leavers become work ready.

The recent report from Professor Alison Wolf into vocational education in the UK reignited the long-running debate about what young people should be studying and doing at school and college to ensure they are competent in the skills employers want them to have when they enter the workplace. Wolf concluded that the current vocational qualification provision is letting both young people and employers down.

A problem to address

The latter point was echoed in a report called 'Tomorrow's Leaders', which was released by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) the day after Wolf's research hit the headlines. After consulting more than 580 employers, CMI found that nine out of 10 managers feel young people need training in basic skills when they enter the world of work. School leavers' management skills were poor or very poor according to 77% of managers, along with their commercial awareness (70%) and communication skills (51%). 
 
"At a time when competition for first jobs is more fierce than ever, evidence of workplace readiness is equally important"
Employers want urgent changes to the curriculum to address this – 82% think workplace skills should be the top priority for the education system, something just one in five feel the current system is doing satisfactorily. Of particular concern is the fact that young people entering the workplace now seem to be less prepared than a decade ago – just 9% agree that young people leaving education in 2011 are more employable than their counterparts 10 years ago.
As an employer of school leavers and graduates, this is an issue I feel very strongly about.
Academic qualifications in traditional subjects like maths and science are, of course, key for us but, at a time when competition for first jobs is more fierce than ever, and likely to become more so due to increases in university tuition fees, evidence of workplace readiness is equally important.
Like the vast majority of employers (nine out of 10 of those surveyed by CMI agreed they had a duty to help develop young people's skills), we recognise we have a key role to play in helping ensure the pool of youngsters looking for first jobs is brimming with skills and talent. It's not fair or appropriate to expect the education system to second-guess our business needs – the best way for young people to leave school as perfect candidates for a given role is for businesses to take a hands-on approach, working closely with educational institutions and those designing and delivering the qualifications.

Implementation

Even having won work placement awards there is still much more we can do. This is why we've teamed up with CMI to launch Campus CMI, a new programme which enables young people at school and college to obtain qualifications in team leading and line management alongside their academic studies. Through these, they gain the kind of behavioural skills – things like teamwork, communication skills and organisational skills – that will be vital when they start work. They also get an insight into what happens in a business and what the world of work will be like.
Following a successful pilot, which saw 1,500 CMI qualifications delivered in 115 schools and colleges the programme is now officially launching across the UK. The aim is to deliver 10,000 qualifications in the next five years. 
The thinking behind Campus CMI recognises the importance of reaching young people at the point where these skills can most easily be developed, as well as inspiring them to be ambitious and confident in their abilities by applying them in a business setting. A qualification with benefits like this will help a CV stand out from the rest, leading to that elusive first step on the career ladder.
 
"A qualification with benefits like this will help a CV stand out from the rest, leading to that elusive first step on the career ladder."
To ensure Campus CMI meets the needs of a wide range of employers, as well as young people and the national curriculum, it is led by a board of employers, which includes Centrica, Waitrose and National Grid. Schools and colleges participating are also encouraged to link up with local businesses which can deliver some of the learning, set activities and help students apply their theoretical learning in practice.
Teachers have praised the way the scheme naturally fits into the academic programme whilst students have told us the qualifications have helped them develop skills they will need for work, but are also already proving useful in other classes.

Conclusion

We feel Campus CMI is a very important step towards finding the type of workable balance between vocational and academic learning that Wolf recommends in her report and that our business needs young people to have if they are to help us succeed. The fact that the scheme is led by employers but implemented within schools and colleges alongside traditional academic qualifications, and accredited by a leading chartered professional body, makes it the perfect solution for ambitious young people who want to make their first job count.
Greg Evans is director of nuclear at Centrica Energy. With more than 35 years in nuclear operations in the USA and Great Britain, he represents Centrica on the Campus CMI Employer Board. Greg is a chartered manager and ambassador for the CMI

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