Stewart Nicol: Employers and teachers must work together

The current disconnect between those teaching the next generation and those who will employ them has manifested itself as a rather difficult challenge to address.

Classroom studies need to be more relevant to employers if youngsters are to gain the skills they need in the world of work. Picture: John Devlin

We must champion new ways to bring together businesses and teachers to create a culture of ­relevance in curriculums.

With our rapidly changing political climate and subsequent unpredictable business environment, it is imperative that teachers understand the challenges that will affect students as they enter work.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

The rising pressure upon teachers to meet a strong educational agenda is resulting in students increasingly choosing to shun part-time work for fear of academic failure. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills survey The Death of the Saturday Job revealed that there are now half as many 16-17 year olds combining work with full-time studies as there were at the end of the 1990s.

The key reason? A desire to focus solely on studies.

Academic excellence does not stem purely from classroom-based study. The survey highlighted that students who combine education with a part-time job are more likely to excel later in life.

Excellence can present itself in many ways. We must challenge and overcome the legacy that ‘success’ means to go to ­university, get a degree and worry about a job later.

Employability skills and academic success are not mutually exclusive. Time must be set aside during school hours to develop soft skills and business acumen. Often these are skills that can only be mastered in a working environment. Reconnecting teachers with employers is a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s an excellent way for businesses to raise their profile and build ­connections with young people. This is of particular relevance to the Highlands, where the rural location enforces this notion of diminished opportunity.

Early employer engagement is an excellent way to target the ‘brain drain’. Guidance must be offered to employers and teachers on how to navigate a working relationship.

Young Enterprise’s report Youth Unemployment – A Generation in Crisis revealed that 91 per cent of those surveyed believe employers expect too much from school leavers. Collaboration with educationalists can result in specially-designed modules to develop skills employers believe school leavers lack. Placements, guest talks, mentoring and sponsored projects are also invaluable sources of opportunity.

Brilliant work is being done to encourage communication. Initiatives such as Developing the Young Workforce, regional groups ­supported by the Scottish Government, are effective in bridging the gap between learning and earning.

Scottish Apprenticeship Week – which is running this week – ­continues to inspire modern apprentices across the country, shaping the future of thousands of young people leaving school with no clear career path.

Initiatives such as these are working to bridge the gap, yet it is down to employers and teachers to ­harness available opportunities. Our future workforce depends on it.

Stewart Nicol is chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce.