Concern as big business goes into the classroom to tackle recruitment crisis

The Observer has a detailed report on the pros and cons of initiatives being taken by big firms such as BAE Systems to encourage children to take up engineering and science jobs since the  coalition axed the Connexions careers advice service and…

…”It wasn’t boring,” said Phoebe, 11, afterwards. “[Before] I thought I’d rather be in my lessons but they made it fun.” Sophie agreed: “It was cool. I liked the lightning machine” – a Tesla coil hooked up to a keyboard that created a baroque storm of thunder and lightning when a volunteer played.

The workshop, organised by defence group BAE Systems and the RAF, is just the first of 350 that will take place in schools across the country this year, reaching 35,000 students. Around a quarter of a million pupils have seen a similar presentation by the defence firm in the last eight years.

Nigel Whitehead, BAE’s UK boss, says the schools programme is vital to ensure that “the pipeline of talent” does not run dry. The programme goes to any school that requests it, but BAE says it makes a special effort to target groups that are under-represented in the engineering workforce: girls, pupils from Asian backgrounds and those in deprived parts of the country.

For those who would never dream of becoming an engineer, Whitehead hopes to show that “the world of engineering is more akin to being a doctor or a surgeon than a mechanic at Kwik-Fit”.

BAE’s schools projects is not a one-off. British business is paying more attention than ever before to what goes on in the classroom. Neil Carberry, director for employment and skills at the Confederation for British Industry, describes a sea-change in attitudes.

“The great myth of the old education debate was that schools were only interested in education for education’s sake and businesses were only thinking about young people as the future labour force. There is almost a scales dropping from the eyes on both sides of the table,” he says. “Business and education are looking for the same thing: a young person who can navigate their way in the 21st century.”

The CBI has shone the spotlight on schools and early-years education with a recent report, in a way that seems far removed from the red-tape-cutting agenda the group is most associated with. It called for better access to childcare, clearly defined goals on literacy and numeracy, and chided schools and policymakers for allowing pupils approaching the end of primary school to drift. In a line that could feature in any of the parties’ manifestos, it attacked “the cult of relativism that says it is OK for a certain percentage of young people to fail”…

Social mobility is also a preoccupation for Google executive Adrian Joseph, who is frustrated at the talent that goes to waste while employers complain they can’t recruit sufficiently skilled staff. “Some of the scary numbers are that 27% of employers have left entry-level jobs unfilled because they just can’t find the right people. But at the same time we have a crisis in youth unemployment in the UK and across Europe,” he says.

The problem is especially acute for ethnic minority job-seekers, who are more likely to be unemployed than white applicants. In 2010, Joseph created Google’s Top Black Talent programme, which pairs promising black university students with senior mentors at Google. Some go on to do a three-month work placement at the tech giant, while Google staff participating in the scheme take unconscious bias training to help them identify hidden prejudices that may be present even when they want to do the right thing.

Joseph, Google’s director of search advertising in the UK, thinks the scheme can help break down barriers in the media and tech industries, where only one in 16 of the workforce has a black or ethnic minority background, compared with one in eight of the population…

One company that has been expanding links with schools is Boots. The high-street chemist is taking 100 students on its work experience programme this year – the highest number to have taken part in this structured “work inspiration” scheme in stores and offices, according to Stephen Lehane, its head of human resources. A fifth of places are reserved for pupils from poor backgrounds or those with learning problems. Lehane says reflecting the community is essential for a company that serves 15 million customers through its 3,000 shops and opticians. “As a community based organisation, how can we support the community that we serve?” he said.

But Lehane is concerned that “schools are already overburdened with initiatives” and would like to see a common system that helps students find out about work experience opportunities.

This sprawl of initiatives also concerns Ros McNeil, head of education at the National Union of Teachers. “Schools just receive too much information from myriad companies and I think heads are feeling overwhelmed. It is almost impossible to navigate what is good for a school,” she says.

Despite the initiatives and mutual politeness, schools and employers are further apart than much of the rhetoric suggests: while 74% of schools and colleges think their students are well-prepared for the world of work, only 35% of employers agree, according to a McKinsey study of eight European countries including the UK…

More at: Concern as big business goes into the classroom to tackle recruitment crisis

What’s your opinion of this? Should we be congratulating firms like BAE, Google and Boots and trying to encourage more to do the same, be worried about the trend or find a third way somehow? Please share in the comments or via Twitter…

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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Talent for these posts always been at a premium, but more positions now. BAE understandably trying to get ahead of market

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Media are giving the impression that schools/teachers are so bad that no students taking STEM subjects. Not true

  3. MawuAgbo

    SchoolsImprove they always go on about shortages. Yet there are excellent engineers with no jobs. #whataretheylookingfor

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