OV Forum: Higher Education and the Workplace

Said Business School, 25th July 2019

The Workplace as a “lifelong learning environment” – for students, employees and business leaders

The Oxfordshire Voice Forum at the Said Business School clearly demonstrated how the OV Forum is continuing to develop into an initiative that is enabling delegates to participate in robust discussions, share ideas, promote existing projects and propose new projects to support or enhance existing programmes to be more effective.

In the aptly named Margaret Thatcher building at the SBS (apt because Margaret Thatcher was the Education Secretary before becoming PM) the Forum benefitted from excellent speakers and a very interactive audience which has certainly become another hallmark of OV Forums to date.

One of the many positive outcomes from this engaging and challenging forum (see many more outcomes below!) was that the OV Forum itself is becoming the most effective of platforms in enabling us all to share ideas and knowledge. The OV Forum also creates awareness of so much of the good work already happening across the county. Creating awareness and helping our understanding of the challenges and potential solutions possible is a crucial element – but the OV Forum goes further by communicating key outcomes to all our networks and empowering us all to play a role in facing those challenges – by working together across sectors to develop and deliver better solutions.

Our 3 panellists provided some insights

Peter Reynolds, Activate Learning
Peter outlined some of the challenges that exist for students and for developing the support systems they require. There are broadly two groups of students. Those who are well prepared and connected by their parents, and those who are very much unsupported and without many of the connections that can help them integrate or take advantage of opportunities. The less supported students are those which face the greatest challenges and the students in need of the most support.

John Kirwan, Oxford Brookes University
John spoke of the need to equip students with skills for the real world, not just the academic skills that enable them to succeed in their studies. Personal self-awareness, personal literacy, playing an active role in their community. We almost need an audit to identify the deficits in the skills we are currently providing to our students.

Stephen Clarke, Cherwell College
Stephen outlined the need to help students understand that at some point they are going to be seeing employment and that those skills are also required. A pure focus on the academic skills and training required to attain a University place is no longer enough. We need to focus on the wider skills it takes to gain employment.

What are the some of the key issues in the relationship between students and the workplace?

The OV Survey highlighted some areas that employers and the business community feel need to be addressed by those teaching and training students. This was a lively and interesting discussion with contributions from the delegates which certainly demonstrated that there are wide ranging issues but also that there are very different views from business. Some views and opinions are negative but others are positive about the expertise and potential of the next generation.

It is also interesting to note that many of the behaviours that employers deem negative are not necessarily to do with age or training – or indeed the responsibility of our academic institutions!

Overall the forum demonstrated effectively that integration and understanding of what may be required for a vibrant and dynamic future workforce is not solely the responsibility of the education system. Combining the thinking of both the business community and the education sector has already been effective in some key initiatives.

Key elements of the discussion

Lack of understanding of appropriate behaviour is seen as a core issue, and that carries through to potentially causing inappropriate behaviours in the workplace.

The “dress code” issue is more about “reading the culture” which is more of a transferable / life skill than a specifically workplace related issue. One delegate did mention that he was happy for any “high performing” colleague to wear any uniform whatsoever as long as they were delivering value! A mankini was mentioned but the chairman assumed this to be a hypothetical scenario…?

We all need to talk more openly about the difficult topics such as abuse in families / schools / workplaces which is exacerbating the problem. There needs to be better education about healthy behaviours and relationships from a young age. See LIFESEXPERTS under Further Reading below.

Is the issue more “adaptability” and “common sense”, more “will” than “skill”? Teach someone how to think on their feet and they can achieve anything.

Employers need to be more involved in the curriculum to make sure the training remains a good fit. Engagement between schools and employers is key. This is a core outcome and more ongoing and active engagement will ensure we are combining our thinking more effectively.

Where did “lifelong learning” go?

Why can’t employers afford to train employees as much as they used to? Training used to be sponsored by the government, but that has stopped.

The role of education

Re-think the “careers advice” services at schools. Focus on transferable skills, because not all careers are forever.

What about online solutions for careers advice / training, like an app. That way we can teach young people in a way that is more “normal” to them?

What would a package of “50 skills for any workplace” look like?

Invite inspirational speakers to schools.

All of this encouragement, engagement and training needs to start at a much younger age, at least by 10 years of age.
Activate Learning applies dress codes to their students based on what they are studying, so that they are aware of what is appropriate for that field.

Should schools offer more frequent work placements, rather than 1 per year? Give them options to try other routes, as it’s hard for any student to know what career is right for them.

Oxford Brookes University’s “employability training” teaches key workplace skills.

Vocational qualifications also involve workplace skills, but not every career path has an associated vocational course. If vocational courses offer these basic workplace skills, why don’t standard A-Levels also? They’re still aiming to land students a job at the end of the day.

Should “know your client” training be a part of courses? I.e. look at the career you’re after and see who their usual market is and get to know it. A potential employee who’s knowledgeable in the employer’s target market is going to be much more desirable.

Look at the terminology we use – On-boarding vs. Induction, Work Experience, Apprenticeship, Career etc. – Are they all still appropriate and understandable to the younger generation, and to employers?

Apprenticeships are inaccessible to smaller businesses due to the required time investment. Is there another option?

Don’t negate the role parenting plays. Is there a way we can educate new parents in order to give their child the best chance they can?

The role of business

Is induction / the training provided by the employer the key issue? Maybe employers aren’t offering adequate training periods for students / new starters. Lack of understanding is in part the employer’s responsibility. Education continues at the work place – You don’t arrive at a new job with every single skill you need. Businesses need to take more responsibility for the skills, or lack thereof, of their employees.

Get involved in Activate Learning’s upcoming T-Levels: https://www.activatelearning.ac.uk/study/what-to-study/t-levels-technical-education – By partnering with Activate Learning on quality, co-created industry placements, you will have direct input into a talent pipeline that meets your future recruitment requirements.

Be realistic with your expectations of young / new starters. Current students are growing up in a completely different world than employers. The older generation should try to adapt to them, rather than the other way around, so as not to be left behind. Children these days are very intelligent. You might think they’re non-communicative, but in reality they are probably holding 5 conversations at once in the palm of their hand.

Are businesses too inflexible? Let young people loose to come up with ideas and celebrate their value. We should be learning from them, not talking down to them. A lot of kids nowadays are feeling depressed about the future – How can we try to help them feel more optimistic?

Encourage bringing your kids to work with you.

Invite students to OV Forums to get them more involved in the business community.

Help shape the curriculum and learn more about how to prepare for work experience placements by getting in touch with Sally Andreou of OxLEP Skills at sally.andreou@oxfordshirelep.com or call 0345 241 1196.

Find new starters and get involved by contacting careers@brookes.ac.uk.

Outcomes

Learn from young starters, rather than trying to bend them to the “old ways”.
Better induction / training for new starters – Their performance is in part the employer’s responsibility.
Teach children from an early age adaptability, healthy / appropriate behaviours and relationships.
Plan work experience programs better to make it worthwhile for the student.
Get involved in shaping the curriculum for your business sector.
Careers services at school should teach more transferable skills, as the “career for life” no longer exists.

Further Reading

The Oxford Inclusive Recruitment Charter
Stats and Impact of Abuse in Society
T-Levels at Activate Learning
Oxford Brookes University
UK Partnerships and Apprenticeships team
Careers in the Curriculum at Brookes
Wellbeing issues

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