Ian Mean

Work Experience for young people is vital for them to discover what is really meant by the world of work. By Ian Mean 

How often do we hear local employers saying that they just don’t get the raw material they need from young people leaving education? Quite a lot in my view…

And while I tend to support the employers here because they know exactly what skills they need, I feel we now need to break the mould in terms of how companies offer work experience.

Currently, work experience tends to be tortuous from both the school position and the local company standpoint. I believe Gloucestershire could be a game changer to the benefit of our young people and local firms if we developed a Work Experience Charter.

How would it work?

School heads would invite local companies in so they could get a real feel of the school, its employability focus and aspirations for their students. I say heads of schools because I think it is so important that the process has time invested from the very top. Too often, I am afraid, it is left to junior teachers with no experience of dealing with business and their needs. I would like to see clusters of schools getting together and taking the lead in a charter process and pinpointing the key local companies, large and small. The initiative must come from the schools themselves — perhaps under the auspices of GFirst LEP, the local enterprise partnership of which I am a board member representing small businesses.

I have recently been involved with the Gloucester Academy, a school that had some challenges, and introduced them to electrical contractors Clarkson Evans with whom I have worked on apprenticeship development for the last 15 years.  As a result, their chief operating officer, Lindsey Young, is now meeting the school. Here is a Staverton company with a brilliant apprenticeship culture, training all its own electricians and now wiring something like one in 10 new homes being built in the UK.

“Work experience for our young people is such an important springboard to their future careers that we must start treating it in a far more business-like way”

I think that the Gloucester Academy could develop a sustainable employment pipeline for some of their students, which  would really benefit local employers. This is just the sort of partnership I envisage from the inception and development of a Work Experience Charter for Gloucestershire.  I recently interviewed Nick Capstick, OBE, Chief Executive of the White Horse Federation, which runs 28 schools including the Gloucester Academy. He was enthusiastic about the idea of a Work Experience Charter. “We in education are tired of the world of work saying we don’t produce kids that they can use,” Nick told me. “However, it is partly through our own ignorance because we do not know what employers want. If they are not helping us, we can’t shape it. “If schools can work with local industry, they can discover what their  natural skills could be. It is not about academic skills, it is about natural skills fit for purpose.” Nick added: “A Work Experience Charter would actually require kids to work. Sometimes when they return from work experience, students say they have spent time on basic jobs. For instance, when they have been to a plumbers, they have told us they sorted out washers for two weeks. “What I think we need is a psychological contract of reciprocation.” I could not agree more. Work experience for our young people is such an important springboard to their future careers that we must start treating it in a far more business-like way.

Ian Mean is Gloucestershire Director of Business West, and a former regional newspaper editor. He was the vice-chairman of the former Gloucester Heritage Urban Regeneration Company and a Freeman of the City of Gloucester. He is an honorary vice-president of Gloucestershire College and has an honorary doctorate of philosophy from the University of Gloucestershire for supporting business in the county. Ian is chairman of the Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust Organ Donation Committee and a board member of Gloucestershire’s Local Enterprise Partnership, championing small and medium-sized businesses.