As we reach the end of another school year, many school pupils are preparing for the next stage of their journey towards the working world. Many will go on to higher education. For others, college or training beckons but for many, there is an eagerness to move straight into the workplace.
On the flip side, an increasing number of companies are not only aware of the need to attract young people into their industry, they are recognising that the bright sparks they are so keen to recruit are no longer exclusively university graduates. In fact, in an education system that is continually evolving, employers can often find shining stars by paying a visit to the school classroom.
Hosted by West Lothian Chamber of Commerce as part of the Scottish Government’s National Youth Employment Strategy, Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) in West Lothian has, at its core, an aim to significantly reduce youth unemployment and strengthen links between education and business for the benefit of the region’s young people and the local business community.
Connecting local businesses with schools ensures that young people are equipped with the skills that local companies are looking for, harnessing an emerging talent pool for employers and helping local businesses to attract the next generation workforce into their industry.
Businesses intervening at an early stage of a young person’s education maximises their chances of making informed career choices, and encourages them to consider local job opportunities which impacts positively on the local economy.
Yet, whilst some of this focus lies with the ‘push’ from education in enabling young people to study a wide range of subjects which gives them a broad scope of skills and experiences, there is also a need for a ‘pull’ from more of the region’s employers to tap into this rich resource of talent within schools and colleges.
After all, investing time in developing these young people will serve to boost the long-term prospects of any forward-thinking business.
In 2016, just under 90 per cent of 16-19 year olds in West Lothian were either in further education, training or work. Youth unemployment in the region is in single figures in percentage terms and is testament to the local strategy of up-skilling our young workforce.
With around 1,200 apprentices in training across West Lothian, and the introduction of the innovative Foundation Apprenticeship programme which combines the school, college and workplace experiences, the value of up-skilling the workforce through apprenticeships is well-recognised. However, these successes will only continue a positive trajectory with the involvement of more local businesses.
So why are local businesses getting involved with the DYW project? Not only does it facilitate business growth and sustainability, it also helps businesses to address future skills shortages. Succession planning weighs heavily on the minds of many employers and engaging with the workforce of the future provides an effective solution to this.
Furthermore, it is an opportunity to gain fresh young perspective on company processes, giving businesses a competitive edge in the market by revitalising and modernising existing approaches. Remember too, that we have very skilful school-leavers who are technology savvy, with social media and digital know-how that is invaluable to any Scottish business.
In the past, young people entered the workplace having had limited interactions with local businesses during their time in education. This not only affected young people’s understanding of what was expected of them in the workplace, it also did not open their eyes to the wealth of opportunities on their doorstep.
There is now a recognition that business involvement in education is vital in ensuring young people develop as effective employees, and our schools and colleges are embracing the drive to channel their energies and focus into the DYW agenda.
The collective and collaborative effort from DYW, education and businesses is empowering our school leavers to be bright, confident and effective individuals, who make a valuable contribution to the workforce.
Lauren Brown, Project Manager, Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian