The poor perception of careers information, advice and guidance is a skills debate perennial. So the fact that 84% of employers think the careers advice young people receive is inadequate isn’t a surprise. This was a key finding in the 2017 CBI/Pearson Skills Survey published this week, covering employers right across the UK. Surely our collective reaction to this has to be that now is the time to get a real grip on this. With a new careers strategy for England scheduled for publication in the Autumn – to join existing strategies in N Ireland, Scotland and Wales – we have the perfect opportunity to reset the way young people receive careers advice. The new DfE skills minister Anne Milton suggested a greater urgency on this front in the House of Commons recently and some of the building blocks are in place.

We – alongside many others – are partnering with the Careers & Enterprise Company to improve careers advice in schools. Our work provides peer-to-peer careers advice in secondary schools from our young role models who have done well in our skills competitions and who are inspiring students to think about technical career routes and apprenticeships. The minister said this model was ‘incredibly powerful’ and we are keen to ensure more young people have the opportunity to experience it. Further good work is happening on improving careers advice right across the UK but we need to boost scale to have the desired impact and this needs to be in the context of a strong public policy framework to set the direction and help accelerate change.

And, of course, the careers advice challenge is having a negative real world effect on helping employers meet their skills gaps across a range of sectors, with 56% of manufacturing firms and 77% of construction companies citing this problem. We urgently need to be pointing young people in the direction of these career opportunities and developing a much stronger pipeline of potential recruits with high quality apprenticeships and technical qualifications under their belts. The government’s proposal for T-levels in England will go some way in the medium-to-long-term to ensuring this is the case and it is asking business for help and support to drive this agenda.

The good news is that, through WorldSkills UK, many businesses are already leading the way by getting involved in skills competitions as a proven route to inspire potential recruits and accelerate their career development in post.  Businesses such as Codemasters, Toyota, BAE Systems, Airbus, Electroimpact, Topshop, the Ritz Hotel and Nationwide Repairs are investing heavily in the development of their competitors as they prepare to go head to head with the best of the rest of world at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi in competitions such as 3D games art design, mechatronics, cyber security, aircraft maintenance, CNC milling, visual merchandising, culinary arts, car painting and many, many more. And furthermore, as these employers know, the process of competing develops skills employers really value: communication, confidence and resilience. As a former deputy head of the CBI, I know employers want to see young recruits with high quality technical skills combined with the right attitude that comes from being rounded and grounded as individuals. Our competitions help deliver exactly that and can be used inspire other young people.

But seeing really is believing and there is a chance to hear from such talented young people at the Skills Show in November – the UK’s largest skills and careers event and host to the national finals of the skills competitions, attracting over 70,000 visitors. Robert Halfon – freshly elected to Chairmanship of the Education Select Committee – and a great champion of both The Skills Show and skills competitions during his time as DfE Apprenticeships and Skills Minister – said that The Skills Show is an ‘essential part’ of the skills calendar.  So our call to employers is get involved and come and see for yourself how a real investment partnership between governments, businesses and education is delivering the results the CBI wants.

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