Norfolk’s young people are truly inspirational

Caroline Williams, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

Norfolk’s young people are truly inspirational and it was great to be part of a celebration last week at the Bernard Matthews Youth Awards where individuals were honoured for their achievements.  Listening to the stories of the finalists and winners and watching the great entertainment from The Garage made me more determined than ever to ensure that the business community works harder at helping Norfolk’s young people understand the world of work and be ready of its challenges.

Michael Heseltine’s report ‘No Stone Unturned’ published last week indentified  research from UKCES that 37% of employers felt that 16 year olds and 24% felt that 17-18 year olds were poorly or very poorly prepared for the world of work.

Is it surprising that so little of the school day is spent preparing pupils for employment? Whilst we continue to judge schools solely by the number of pupils achieving A*-C grades the focus on what happens afterwards is inevitably reduced. The incentive is to teach for tests, not ensure a set of skills valued by the local economy and employers. Employers are clear that when assessing future potential, they rate attitude and personality and work experience as more important than educational attainment, although literacy and numeracy are still key.

We need to increase the employability of young people by educating and enthusing them about the world of work, and demonstrating to them the applicability of what they learn in the classroom. It was particular pleasing to see that the case study which Lord Heseltine used to demonstrate best practise in his report was the ‘Young Chamber’ at Aylsham High School which was set up by Norfolk Chamber a few years ago.

I have yet to meet a business person who is not passionate about helping to ensure that our young people understand better the world of business, their local career and training opportunities and to learn the skills needed in the workplace. Up until last year as a business community we were starting to make headway in co-ordinating local business/education activity. However, due to government financial cuts and changes to the education system, the activity is now very fragmented, leading to confusion less effectiveness.

The reason Chamber members are already working with Norfolk’s new Academies and local schools is not because the government feel we should but because we care.  Michael Heseltine’s Recommendation 76 readsLEPs should consider how they engage with local schools and work with Chambers to facilitate this”, However to really make a difference there does need to be strong national leadership and direction to the schools that fostering a greater involvement of business with schools is not a ‘nice to have’ but a key element of how a school is judged to be successful.

From a business community which drives the local economy it should not be beyond our capabilities to come up with a way forward which will give Norfolk’s young people the best possible future and provide ourselves with the workforce we need.

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