Back to school for British business

As the likes of IBM, Deloitte and Unilever invest in the skills of tomorrow, how is business responding to government calls for its increased engagement in preparing the next generation for work?

“My vision is for Britain to be a Great Meritocracy,” said Prime Minister Theresa May in a speech at the 2016 Conservative Party conference. Having already identified education as one of her government’s first areas of major reform with her announcement that she intended to bring back grammar schools, Mrs May made clear her hope that British business would play a greater, and more active, role in the education and training opportunities of Britain’s future engineers, designers and CEOs.

Investing in people and communities

“Businesses, large and small, are the backbone of our economies, and enterprise is the engine of our prosperity,” Mrs May asserted at the recent World Economic Forum, in Davos. “It is essential for business to demonstrate leadership. It means [the government] stepping up to a new, active role that backs businesses and ensures more people in all corners of the country share in the benefits of its success. And for business, it means doing even more to spread those benefits to more people, it means putting aside short-term considerations and investing in people and communities for the long term.“These are all things that I know the vast majority of businesses do already. Not just by creating jobs, supporting smaller businesses, training and developing people, but also by working to give something back to communities and supporting the next generation.”This speech echoed the commitment Mrs May expressed at the 2016 CBI conference, when she challenged business to help drive improvements in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education and training.The CBI speech came in the wake of the latest PISA test scores, which assess the educational performance of pupils in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, with a particular focus on 15-year-olds’ attainment in science, reading and mathematics. While Britain has risen slightly up the tables, it still falls behind many other countries in maths and science.Neil Carberry, the CBI’s director for people and skills, believes the PISA report should serve as a wake-up call to British business.“The drop in England’s overall performance will be a concern to businesses, as well as to thousands of school teachers across the country who are doing a very challenging job. It’s particularly concerning as, in the CBI’s latest report on regional growth, our research shows that the fundamental driver of economic performance is education.“Businesses have a key role to play in improving every school across the country through joining governing bodies, offering clear routes to high-quality apprenticeships, careers advice and work experience.”

Getting ready for work

Further evidence to support the urgent need for an effective approach to business and education collaboration came earlier this year in an OFSTED report which claimed that the nation’s future economic prosperity was being put at risk because the majority of England’s schools were failing to give sufficient priority to ‘enterprise education’ and work-related learning.The report, Getting Ready for Work, found that only four of the 40 secondary schools visited by inspectors demonstrated successful coordination between education and business.“The career choices that young people make can be informed by the practical experience they gain at school,” said former chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw. “It is really important that schools are providing the right opportunities, working effectively with local businesses to offer their pupils the chance to understand how businesses work.”

Forging education and business links

The CBI, in partnership with the Royal Society, has taken the lead in driving a programme of business and education links. In a joint report, Making Education Your Business: A Practical Guide to Supporting STEM Teaching in Schools and Colleges, the two organisations set out their belief that the key to supporting STEM education in the UK was for businesses to collaborate more successfully with teachers.According to the latest Education and Skills Survey from the CBI and Pearson Education, the picture is a positive one, with 70 per cent of British businesses already forging links with at least one school or college. But, with a growing skills gap and STEM workforce shortage, there remains much to be done to support education and the rapidly shifting requirements of our modern world.“Inspirational teachers clearly have a central role to play in showing young people that studying STEM will help them take advantage of the exciting opportunities our increasingly technologically driven and globally connected world has to offer,” said Professor Tom McLeish, chairman of the Royal Society’s Education Committee.“By working together with teachers and forging strong links with schools and colleges, businesses can support STEM teaching and invest in the UK’s future workforce. Many UK businesses already use their skills and know-how to have a positive impact in schools and colleges across the UK.”

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Neil Carberry agrees. “Many industries rely on a supply of science talent, at both graduate and technician level, but shortages are appearing that will hold our economy back. Businesses of all sizes are facing a serious challenge to access enough of these skills to compete and grow, so we must equip more young people with the skills that will create flourishing careers and allow them take advantage of future opportunities.”

Exploring career pathways

For post-16 students from low-income communities, Deloitte has developed a successful ‘access’ programme, which provides insight into technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) trends. Students can explore potential careers in the sector and develop their interpersonal skills by pitching business ideas.For example, participants have been challenged to develop an idea for a YouTube channel with a viable revenue source, design a new smartphone, or identify business-to-business uses for drones.Deloitte works with 18 schools, and offers its own staff as ‘access volunteers’, who visit schools and offer leadership role-modelling and careers guidance.Juliet Horton is a teacher at the City of London Academy, Islington, which has been a Deloitte Access partner for three years. “Deloitte Access volunteers serve as positive role models for our students,” she says, “leading book groups, mentoring year 11 students, and providing essential careers guidance through a variety of events.“For many of our students, this exposure to young, vibrant professionals has helped them raise their aspirations and ambitions and changed their life chances.”

Inspiring the future

The charity Education and Employers Taskforce helps schools and colleges to find effective partnerships with employers and provide young people with inspiration, knowledge, skills and opportunities.In partnership with Unilever, the charity hosted a special Inspiring the Future event at Wirral Grammar School for Girls. Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman, and 35 Unilever volunteers, who ranged from apprentices to experienced employees, shared their experiences with 150 pupils from local state schools, and answered questions about their jobs, career paths and educational choices.The event aimed to introduce young people to the opportunities available, and to break down stereotypes by giving them the chance to meet people of both sexes in a range of roles, some of which might previously have been slanted towards a particular gender.Volunteers included female engineering apprentices, scientists and project managers. Elaine Cogan, head of Wirral Grammar School for Girls, said, “Post-18 education choices are changing, and many more pupils will be seeking vocational and technical training in the future. Having professionals from Unilever talk to the students and inspire them about the range of career paths available to them is invaluable.”

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Supporting STEM teachers

IBM has a long-standing work experience programme to inspire students about careers in the STEM sector. The company was one of the first to recognise the need to support teachers who might not have first-hand experience of the industry.The STEM Insight programme brings teachers into businesses on a two-week placement to help them develop a better understanding of STEM industries. It is followed by a course of professional development delivered by the National STEM Learning Centre and Network.IBM is helping to identify emerging labour-market needs in an evolving workplace with ever-changing technological demands. A teacher commented, “Participating in [the STEM Insight programme] has been an amazing opportunity to experience the working environment within an international high-tech organisation. Working with IBM has enabled me to identify the skills needed by students who would like to pursue a career in a similar type of company. It has empowered me and given me the confidence to encourage, prepare and support students wanting to apply for entry into a modern STEM industry.”Project ENTHUSE, a partnership between government, charities and employers, was created to ensure that effective STEM teaching was delivered across all UK schools and colleges.Ian Duffy, community development manager at BP, is a Project ENTHUSE partner. BP has worked closely with the project and developed its own set of resources across the school curriculum. For example, in a series of videos, two young presenters explore the beach at Lyme Regis, learning about rocks, fossils and evolution. The videos are accompanied by fully resourced lesson plans, worksheets and activities.“We believe that teachers are crucial in developing and inspiring young people to become the scientists and engineers of the future,” says Mr Duffy. “But there is a much wider role that we can all play in helping teachers to make STEM-related subjects more engaging by opening young people’s eyes to their relevance to themselves and their own lives.”Indeed, it would appear that BP is committed to engaging young people in the sector through its annual Ultimate STEM Challenge, a national competition run by the company in partnership with the Science Museum and STEM Learning. Each year, up to four students aged 11–14 from across the UK are rewarded for putting their STEM skills to the test with an invitation to a celebratory event at the Science Museum, an Ultimate STEM experience day, and £500 for their school.Healthcare company GSK is demonstrating its commitment to inspiring the next generation by sponsoring the 2017 UK Young Scientist of the Year award. Designed to recognise and reward achievements in all areas of science, technology, engineering and maths, the award is open to those aged 11–18.GSK’s senior VP of UK and Ireland pharmaceuticals, Nikki Yates, is part of this year’s judging panel. She said, “I am passionate about making sure that the next generation of innovators and leaders in science and engineering are engaged early so no future talent is left uninspired or undiscovered.”

Business breakfasts

As a Bedford school’s relationship with local businesses demonstrates, not all partnerships need to operate on such a grand scale.Through its links with the Federation of Small Businesses, the Mark Rutherford School regularly invites businesses and employers to chat informally about the local labour market over breakfast with teachers and students. In this way, students gain invaluable direct contact with local businesses, as well as up-to date and tailored careers advice from their teachers and careers advisers.

Developing STEM skills

Inspiring tomorrow’s STEM workforce is very much in tune with Relocate Global’s focus on education, schools and skills development. We are committed to supporting employers to recruit and develop talent, particularly in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which are so crucial to global prosperity and growth.It is for this reason that the 2017 Relocate Awards presentation ceremony is being held at the Science Museum, in London. Says Fiona Murchie, Relocate’s managing editor, “These awards are all about showcasing excellence, innovation and best practice, so the Science Museum is the perfect venue for celebrating our winners in this tenth-anniversary year.” Click here for details.Read more in the spring issue of Relocate magazine, which features more insight and analysis.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryGet access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit © 2017. This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Relocate magazine, published by Profile Locations, Spray Hill, Hastings Road, Lamberhurst, Kent TN3 8JB. All rights reserved. This publication (or any part thereof) may not be reproduced in any form without the prior written permission of Profile Locations. Profile Locations accepts no liability for the accuracy of the contents or any opinions expressed herein.

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