The education system is now so out of step with the requirements of living and working in the 21st century, we need to rethink ways of capturing and measuring what competency looks like.

Society still peddles the mantra: “get 5 ‘good’ GCSEs, complete your A-levels, then go to university, and you are set for life”, but that is not the reality or lived experience of many young people. It is no longer true that getting your GCSE’s equips you for the world of work; only 50% of young people go to university after school and many of them leave with degrees that do not equip them for meaningful employment.

As an employer in the commercial sector and through my work in the not-for-profit sector, I know that when we recruit, we look for what candidates can do; the skills they have, the ability to think creatively, source information and turn it into knowledge, work as team, be solution-oriented, solve problems. Their qualifications do not tell us anything about these vital must-have skills.

Many of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in society have these skills in spades. They have managed households, sorted out chaotic parents, navigated away from predators and gangs, gone hungry so their siblings didn’t have to, and worked with their friends to identify strategies to survive. They know how to get things done, think outside the box, have the courage of their opinions, but they are often feisty or frozen and do not flourish in a school system that does not have empathy for their experiences. So, they leave school without those bits of paper they have been told for 11 years are their passport to success.

It is incumbent on us to do what we can to encourage radical change in how we educate our young people, but equally we need to be innovative in finding ways to spot, attract and nurture talent. We need to address how and where we advertise, and where and what we recognise as the competencies we need.

Whilst employers need to open up their recruitment, youth organisations need to support young people to identify their talents and strengths. We need to find ways to help young people recognise that their lived experience has given them a unique skills set, not just pain and strife. In the challenges lived and overcome, the learning must be captured, so young people know how to translate their lives into a clear set of much needed employment skills.

We have a phenomenal work force who don’t hold conventional passports into employment, and we have employers crying out for a resilient, self-driven, creative, workforce. Collectively we need to work on bridging this gap.

As employers move to skills-based employment, let’s make sure schools and youth organisations get behind helping young people identify their skills and evidence them through their life stories.

Zenna Hopson
Deputy Chairperson