Voices: Young people are being failed – we need to help them be ready for work

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‘We will ensure every young person has a school and college experience that equips them for the future’  (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
‘We will ensure every young person has a school and college experience that equips them for the future’ (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The new jobs of the future are emerging every day – and the pace of change is increasing. Yet our education and skills system has remained largely static. A traditional curriculum justified on the grounds of maintaining rigour and access to adult learning and the ability to retrain becoming harder not easier.

This isn’t working – for our country, for learners or for employers. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has found that 44 per cent of employers think that young people leaving school, college or university are not "work ready". Employers are looking beyond just formal qualifications: 7 in 10 rate soft-skills and behaviours – communication, teamwork, a positive attitude – as a top three factor when recruiting school and college leavers.

That’s why at the CBI Annual Conference today, Keir Starmer announced Labour’s new campaign to ensure every young person leaves education ready for work and ready for life.

Over the coming months, I’ll be touring the country to hear from businesses, public sector employers, colleges and schools, parents, and, crucially, young people themselves about how we currently deliver education and what we need to do differently to equip young people for the rest of their lives.

I’m delighted that I will be supported in this work by Labour’s newly appointed Council of Skills Advisors. Lord David Blunkett, Rachel Sandby-Thomas and Praful Nargund will bring their considerable and diverse experience to this work, contributing expertise from education, business, politics and public policy to the table as we think afresh about our education and skills system.

An excellent education and access to lifelong learning are a central mission for Labour. During the final seven years of Labour governments, the number of 19-year-olds gaining level three skills and qualifications (A-level or BTEC equivalent) increased rapidly, but progress has since stalled. Today, 4 in 10 young people are leaving education without these qualifications, which are key to the modern economy, and at the current rate of progress it will take almost 300 years to reduce this even to 3 in 10.

Labour won’t stand for this. We will ensure every young person has a school and college experience that equips them for the future. Digital skills will be embedded across the curriculum, with all pupils having a laptop or tablet at home. New clubs and activities – sport, music, art, drama – will be available for all. We’ll embed teamwork, communication, problem solving, the life skills we know all employers need, across the curriculum and place a careers advisor in every school, helping set young people on the path that’s right for them.

This approach is key to genuinely delivering opportunities in every community and to every young person. Under the Conservatives, young people on free school meals, those with special educational needs and disabilities, and those who live in the North of England are all far less likely to achieve level three qualifications than their peers. That holds young people back as they embark on their adult lives, wasting individual talents and the huge potential these young people have.

For the far too many adults who didn’t achieve their potential at school, we must also make it easier to return to learning. Across the country, 9m adults lack basic literacy or numeracy skills, yet participation in adult learning has declined by 60 per cent since 2010. In a world where life expectancy has increased by 10 years over the last five decades, adults are working longer and having more different jobs, access to retraining and upskilling is absolutely essential to building the country we want to see: one where opportunity is genuinely available to all.

Labour has pledged to buy, make and sell more in Britain, bringing good jobs to every town and city across the country. But this means ensuring people across the country have the skills they need to take on these new jobs and get our economy firing on all cylinders. I am excited to work with businesses and employers to ensure we reform our education system so it delivers the skills and capabilities that young people need to achieve their ambitions, and employers need to grow our economy. But Labour also wants to see a commitment from employers to invest in their people and the skills for the future, a partnership that benefits us all.

This approach speaks to Labour’s vision for a holistic education and skills system that genuinely transforms people’s life chances. It is a vision that creates new opportunities for all who need them, that makes our society fairer, and our economy – from households to business – more prosperous and more secure. It is a vision that only Labour can deliver, and it will be a priority for a Keir Starmer government.

Kate Green is shadow secretary of state for education and Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston

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