Viewpoint – Learning while earning

Learning while earning
A report from the government’s skills experts the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has revealed that the number of 16 and 17 year olds working part-time has halved from 42% in 1996 to only 18% in 2014. The report found the main reason for this is a desire by young people to boost their grades by focusing on their studies alone, rather than also having a part-time job. Experience of the world of work is something employers are frequently quoted as saying is a number one ‘ask’ when recruiting. How important is ‘real’ work experience to young people and how can this be balanced against study time?

Lesley Martin-Wright – chief executive Knowsley Chamber of Commerce
Work experience is essential. Rather than it impacting on grades, I believe it reinforces the practical value of a subject and what has been learned. Literacy and numeracy skills are the building blocks of the “world of work” eg. Problem solving, accurate note-taking, mental arithmetic (even “times tables” come in useful!).
Whilst students may state that there is a desire to increase grades, our own research indicates that there are also far fewer companies offering part-time work or unpaid volunteer positions;  statutory obligations under health and safety compliance are frequently cited. For example under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, an employer has a responsibility to ensure that a young person (anyone under 18 years) is not exposed to risk due to their lack of experience, being unaware of existing or potential risks, and/or lack of maturity. A business must also consider issues such as the layout of the workplace, work equipment and processes, etc, and safeguarding issues including DBS checks for staff working with children (whether the placement is paid or unpaid).
I was encouraged to take up a part-time job from the age of 15, and had the opportunity to work in a small local shop.  Getting to grips with the till, being accurate when handling cash transactions, and then stock taking etc was initially very daunting.  Dealing with customers face to face was a learning curve;  whilst the majority of customers were great not everyone was polite or friendly.  A sharp learning curve for me on customer service, and, of course, knowing when to call the manager for back up!

Cllr Nick Small, assistant Mayor of Liverpool
I think there are a variety of factors at work here. Raising the participation age to 18 has meant that there are more 16 and 17 year olds than ever in education or training.  In Liverpool, for instance, we’ve got more 16 and 17 year olds doing apprenticeships than other cities. That means fewer young people in part-time work. Young people are working harder and are more focused on their goals than used to be the case, so it doesn’t surprise me that more young people are focusing on their studies. But I do worry that young people aren’t getting enough exposure to the world of work. When I was studying I worked a variety of different  jobs – I had a paper round, I worked in a supermarket and at one stage at McDonalds. As well as earning money, I learnt the importance of work, customer service and always doing your best. These are important values for young people to learn. You can learn these lessons by working part-time, but also in other ways like doing good quality work experience in school and volunteering.”

Maria Hart, marketing and sixth form extended work experience manager, Liverpool Compact EBP
In today’s competitive world achieving good qualifications is imperative but not enough alone to secure employment or a university place. So yes, this report does concern me. I would urge young people and in particular sixth formers to find a balance and gain some valuable experience in the workplace for a manageable period of time, rather than entirely dismissing it.  Again and again employers and universities tell me how important it is for young people to have ‘work experience’ so that not only do they have the qualifications but the skills and qualities required to succeed in work. Developing employability skills is a must – good communication skills, ‘people skills’, customer awareness, team work, willingness to learn and problem solving skills. All this can be learnt in the workplace – through a part time job, summer work or regular work experience whilst in school. This develops confidence and up to date business awareness in young people. This is crucial.

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