A culture of “wholly unrealistic expectations” towards the modern workplace – including shock at the hours they are expected to put in – lies behind the decline, the training arm of motoring giant Arnold Clark has told MSPs.
A major summit is to be staged by Holyrood’s finance committee tomorrow that will see politicians and businesses join forces to try to improve the “employability” of the emerging Scottish workforce.
A report submitted in advance by Arnold Clark sets out the company’s concerns, and their findings have been backed by other business organisations.
The company said the biggest difficulty it faced was apprentices failing to adjust to a full working week, having become used to studying 18 hours a week at school or even less at further education colleges.
Many college courses were branded “state-sponsored babysitting” by Arnold Clark, which said not enough training was geared towards the world of work.
“It is desperately sad and thoroughly disheartening to hear professional recruiters with 20-plus years’ experience of employing school-leavers describe young Scots as ‘unsuitable for any employment’,” the submission said. “Yet that was the case of 81 per cent of our applicants.”
The firm had 2,280 applications for apprenticeships in 2011 – but found that 1,850 were simply not fit for the workplace.
It took on 121 youngsters, although 430 were employable, according to the submission by Arnold Clark’s subsidiary, GTG Training.
Apprenticeships, which are paid, usually last three years and have an 80 per cent completion rate.
The “recurring” problems identified among applicants included a poor attitude to others, no concept of citizenship, poor communication skills, a poor understanding of the standards expected and an “inability to make a decision based on anything other than ‘I want’.”
But the submission added: “The single biggest issue causing difficulties for the transition from school to employment is the discrepancy in working hours. Our apprentice intakes consistently describe a maximum of 18 hours in class per week, extended holidays and little or no access to extracurricular activities.” Youngsters who go on to college come into the workplace a year or more year later with a “further deterioration in concept of ―working week”, the submission added.
“We are increasingly concerned at the state-sponsored babysitting nature of some college programmes, rather than the specifically targeted vocational training for near-guaranteed employment we believe taxpayers’ money should be being spent on.”
CBI Scotland’s policy executive, Lauren Paterson, said a survey of education and skills by the organisation found “widespread dissatisfaction across business”.
She added: “Employers do not expect new recruits to be ready for specific jobs, but firms do expect them to have the right attitude and approach and be able to draw on a range of employability skills as they find their feet in the labour market.
“The value of experience gained through volunteering, work placements and apprenticeships should not be underestimated: through these means young people can gain an appreciation of the world of work and the attitudes and skills required, grow their business awareness and get their first foothold on the jobs ladder.”
About 10 per cent of Arnold Clark’s recruitment is aimed at “seriously disadvantaged youngsters” in a partnership with the Prince’s Trust, and the firm believes it could save many from a lifetime of unemployment.
But the report added: “We believe more can be achieved for the unsaved majority with intelligent and innovative interventions, provided there is the political will to effect change.”
Despite slight falls in the most recent figures, unemployment has soared in the past five years as the economic downturn bites. There are about 220,000 Scots on the dole, with almost half this total aged between 16 and 24.
Representatives from supermarket giant Asda will also appear before MSPs tomorrow. Its submission reveals that about one-third of its staff are between 16 and 24. Between ten and 20 people apply for every job, including about 5,000 applications for 300 positions at its new store at Straiton in Edinburgh.
Labour’s youth unemployment spokesman, Kezia Dugdale, called on the Scottish Government to listen to employers to ensure that young people leaving schools and colleges have the skills needed for the workplace.
“I believe there is scope to provide better training to prepare young people for that difficult transition from education to work, and business should have a part to play in shaping any strategy,” she said.
“Sadly, some of this is being undermined by the SNP government’s deep cuts to colleges.”
Finance committee convener Kenneth Gibson said the round-table summit was aimed at tackling the concerns. “A key purpose of our discussions on improving employability is to highlight how we might do just that – improve the chances and opportunities for young people in deprived communities to get into employment both permanently and long term,” he said.