New report reveals schools are failing to prepare students for the world of work

UTC students

Young STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) workers would like to see a greater connection between employers and schools as a new report looks at their experiences as they made the journey from school to work.

The report from Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity that promotes UTCs, found nearly half (45%) of 20-35 year-olds working in STEM related roles, believe the subjects they studied in school are useless in the world of work. A greater number (61%) found that learning technical skills would have been more useful than studying traditional subjects.

Three out of five (60%) didn’t believe teachers had a sufficient understanding of the labour market and a similar number (63%) felt that schools didn’t understand the skills employers needed.

Speaking about the report, Lord Baker, Chairman, Baker Dearing Educational Trust said:

As we head towards Brexit the challenge for our education system is to ensure we equip students with the skills they need to forge successful careers in key areas like science, engineering and computing which our economy increasingly demands. This report shows that the current education system fails to provide these young people with opportunities to develop the technical skills they need to get the jobs they want.

Every attempt to improve technical and hands-on vocational learning since 1870 has failed – most killed by snobbery. UTCs are part of a small minority of schools which are attempting to meet the skills demands of industry and give students a well-rounded education to help them meet their full potential. UTCs exist because students want them, employers like them and the economy needs them.

Disconnect between school and the workplace

Those surveyed want to see schools engage more directly with employers as business can help improve teachers’ knowledge and inspire students to consider different careers. Three out of five of (63%) felt employers didn’t have enough say in what schools teach and over half of respondents (55%) also admitted that they didn’t understand how the subjects they learnt at school could be used in the world of work.

Holly Broadhurst, now 22, was recently recognised as the UK’s top Higher and Degree Apprentice, at the National Apprenticeship Awards. When she was 14, Holly opted to move from her mainstream school to the JCB Academy, the first University Technical College to open. Holly said:

At that time I was warned that it might be a bad idea and I might regret it, but looking back now it is one of the best decisions I ever made. Choosing to go to The JCB Academy was a massive step for me, but it was here that I was inspired to pursue a career in engineering.

What made my education different was that all the learning was contextualised so you learnt the theory as well as how it is applied through engineering challenges. I was able to get my A levels AND complete a Diploma in Engineering at the same time; this gave me the edge over other people who were only studying one of these qualifications but not both.

Ian Iceton, Group HR Director at Network Rail, believes too much time in traditional education is spent on imparting knowledge and not enough on teaching students how to apply it:

To me, knowledge is important but it’s the skills and judgment to know how to use that knowledge that really makes an individual stand out.

What we need is more technical and vocational training – that’s why Network Rail supports University Technical Colleges.

Other findings

  • Computer science, maths and English were by far the most popular subjects and 70% felt this was because they had relevance to the real world.
  • Half (53%) of respondents thought employers preferred an academic rather than a technical education.
  • More than half (59%) of respondents reported that they received a poor standard of careers advice.
  • The experiences of the youngest STEM workers that were surveyed suggests that winning the first STEM job is much more challenging now than before. Half of the STEM workers surveyed aged between 32 and 35 secured their first job within five job applications but, amongst those aged between 20 and 22, just 31 per cent managed this.


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