17 March 2020

Working together to get young people ready for work

I CAN's Speech and Language Advisor, Liz Wood, discusses how we can help bridge the gap between school and employment and equip young people with the communication skills they need to be 'work ready'. 

We increasingly hear the term ‘work ready’, but what exactly does it mean? I’ve asked colleagues, school staff and parents, it seems to mean different things to different people. Everyone, though, views exam results and qualifications as a main currency into work. Though there is no doubt these open doors, they’re not the whole story.  

The 2019 CBI publication on work readiness was unable to find a single definition of the term. However, they found three consistent themes in employers’ definitions of ‘work ready’ – knowledge, skills and character. Skills was defined as the ‘application of knowledge and character in real world scenarios through teamwork, leadership, problem-solving and communication.’

So, it seems that communication is a lynchpin of work readiness. Why, then, is it reportedly the skill that is most frequently lacking in new recruits? (Skills for Work, Skills for Life, I CAN, 2016). In fact, 50% of employers said recently that they weren’t satisfied with school leavers’ skills in communication (CBI/Pearsons Education and skills survey 2016). 

It is therefore essential to look beyond exams and support young people’s communication skills in school. These skills can often be taken for granted, but for some young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who have SEND, poor communication skills are a significant barrier to launching their careers. A lack of understanding from employers of how to recognise and support communication needs can compound the issue. 

Through our Talk for Work Intervention (formally Talk about Talk Secondary), I CAN has tackled the issue of work ready communication head-on by supporting pupils in years 9, 10 and 11 to develop functional communication skills for the workplace. Trained staff deliver the programme; teaching and mentoring young people through a series of 12 lessons, preparing them eventually to co-deliver a workshop to employers about communication and communication difficulties.

Employers attend the workshops and hear first-hand about communication difficulties from young people who experience these challenges themselves. Through interactive activities and short films, participants can understand the types of difficulties young people may have and how they can support them. Young people bring the training alive with real life experiences, humour and first-hand advice as to what helps them. 

Our evaluation in partnership with the University of Sheffield showed a significant change in the confidence and communication skills for those young people who had engaged with the programme. 

Through funding from The Careers and Enterprise company, we have recently extended the programme for pupils with SEND. Many young people with SEND have communication difficulties and need additional guidance and support to be work ready – to prepare for interviews, apprenticeships, and volunteer opportunities as well as paid work. 

For many of these young people, the workshop is the first time they have stood up in front of an audience. However, through practice, skilful scaffolding and teamwork they have been able to deliver the presentation, not only improving their own communication skills, but developing employers’ knowledge of how best to support them. 

Although the advance of automation and artificial intelligence is changing the workplace, communication skills remain key to success in the world of work. Strengthening young people’s communication skills not only for employers, but through working together with employers, is key to unlocking the next generation’s potential. 

Find out more about Talk for Work and how you can support young people through training with I CAN.

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