Rebecca Ogden reflects on a recent conversation she had with an employer who wanted to recruit the ‘right type of person’ rather than being concerned about what qualifications they had. 

I had a meeting a few weeks ago with an employer looking to take on a number of apprentices. It was quite obvious after a few minutes they were after an individual and not a ‘qualification’. The conversation we had, was focused around securing the right type of person that could go on to learn the technical skills required. This got me thinking. In my, not too far distant past, as a university graduate, having gained a 2:2 in my degree, I was struggling to gain paid employment. Graduate employers were so focused on the level of attainment, there seemed little to no importance placed on employability skills and personal attributes. Employers would not consider anyone that had not achieved a 2:1 at the least. Meaning the degree I had worked hard for 3 years to get, meant very little to most graduate employers.

Unfortunately this happens at lower levels of educational attainment too. Suddenly you have administrative jobs wanting specific high level qualifications to sift out candidates of a certain level.

According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) for the UK:

‘to maintain a competitive advantage, the UK should have education and training systems that co-operate with the private sector… Students also need to develop strong cognitive and soft skills and multidisciplinary to improve their competitiveness, through innovative teaching strategies and flexibility in tertiary curriculum choice.’ (OECD 2017)

This does not mention the development of technical ability, the OECD is instead saying to stay competitive, the UK needs to focus on soft and transferable skills required by industry. In many cases the technical competence can be taught whilst they are in that role, soft skills such as time keeping and organisational ability transferable skills such as hard working and resilient however are very difficult to learn/unlearn.

In order for candidates to develop these soft skills, a basic level of education is required. People need to know how to read, write and do arithmetic. However as a nation we don’t even seem to be getting people to even that basic level. Currently ranked 18th (out of 28) with for attainment of literacy, numeracy or both within OECD countries, something somewhere is missing. Whilst it is important the cause of this is determined, and rectified, there is a need to get those already in this situation in to employment. We need to develop their literacy and numeracy skills, alongside the progression of their soft skills. It is disgraceful that in a developed country such as the UK people are leaving school without the basic ability to read, write and add up.

Apprenticeships go a long way to develop those that may find themselves in the aforementioned situation. Even more, Small to Medium Sized enterprises are often best placed to assist. Working in smaller teams it is easier to understand and support the needs of other employees. Voluntary and Community Sector organisations also find themselves in a good position to offer such opportunities to new members of staff, as it is a good chance to support those, who may be service users, back in to full-time employment. It’s a good opportunity to develop a persons soft skills. With the move away from accredited qualifications in apprenticeships, the government seem to be initiating the change away from ‘qualification’ to employee. However do businesses feeling the same? Or is the government decreasing the value of apprenticeships? Also are apprenticeships the only option for those disengaged with the educational system?

What do you think?