Jennifer Poutney, Head of Operations at independent PR & Marketing agency Volpa discusses whether education is adequately preparing young people for the world of work:
As a medium sized business, we actively support students trying to enter our industry. From offering basic work experience, to internships, scholarships and training, we see it as hugely important to support younger generations trying to enter the workplace. However, we know from first-hand experience, young people are being let down by an education system which is not setting them up to ‘hit the ground running’ when they enter the world of work.
The old rules of employment seem to have changed. As a company we are finding ourselves increasingly having to fill in the gaps of what we feel should have been taught in the classroom and lecture theatre. From school leavers to graduates, it seems like the old fashioned basics of communication and key skills are somehow missed.
Gone are the days of formal letter writing. Communication is now mostly electronic and the rules of engagement don’t appear to have shifted down the teaching level, particularly in schools.
As a result, I feel some school leavers are negatively impacting their chances with new employers. Inappropriate and unstructured communication is fairly common. Many young people seem to forget they are actually engaging with future employers. I have personally invested a lot of time advising and educating our work experience students. We are looking to support these guys, but many future employers will not.
Even university graduates who come to us seem not to have benefitted from learning key practical skills within their subjects; key skills which will give them the ability to start their first jobs hitting the ground running.
For example, English graduates who cannot write a lengthy in depth quality article, or a graphic design graduate who cannot deliver a client’s flyers or posters because they don’t know how to design for print. This may not be obvious to an employer until the point of delivery by their new recruit, quite simply because they assume a graduate can complete such a request.
However, I know there is no easy fix to these issues. Indeed, the etiquette of electronic communication has been a topic of conversation in the business world ever since email came into play nearly a quarter of a century ago.
Fast forward 25 years and it’s now social media that is the hot potato. Our children use it daily. We need to make them mindful of the shift in tone and language required from writing a quick snapchat message, to writing a more formal email to a potential employer. Perhaps, if it’s not already, this could become part of the teaching curriculum which specifically focuses on career advice and CV writing.
We also realise there will always be a tension between what teachers teach and advise and the bad habits brought about by a heavy use of social media.
Perhaps more of a collaboration is required between our industry and education, where ‘real life’ training can take place ‘on the ground’ in the workplace and is not just theory taught in a classroom or lecture theatre.
There are some great initiatives out there which are trying to do just that. One of our clients, Developing Young Workforce (DYW) Perth and Kinross, a collaboration between education and business, is currently running a campaign to encourage more employers across Perth and Kinross to offer secondary school pupils work experience placements.
This is a fantastic initiative. Experiencing as much of the workplace as possible whilst at school will help young people learn from relatively early on what is and what isn’t appropriate communication; in addition to helping them glean key skills. I wish initiatives like this all the best.