Calls for collaboration between business and education to tackle skills shortage in Leeds

Is having a degree these days enough for a successful career?
Is having a degree these days enough for a successful career?
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A conference between education and business leaders in the city is hoping to address the issue of skills shortages, and an expanding gap in the jobs market which is seeing graduates and school-leavers unable to find work in their chosen career paths.

The University of Leeds and Leeds City Council have announced plans to host the ‘Young People, Skills and Prospects in Employment’ event next month.

It comes amid a national backdrop where there are worsening job prospects for many young people and, despite attempts to improve the routes from school and college into higher education and employment as well as raising skill levels, complex challenges remain.

The conference, which will welcome academics and speakers from across the country, seeks to create within Leeds a new way of working together in education and business.

Sue Wynne, head of employment and skills at the council, said: “Like lots of things in the public sector, we are not always brilliant at evaluating what we do. If we have got a 60 to 70 per cent success rate we thing we are doing brilliantly, but are we?”

“From my perspective I want to bring together lots of providers in the city, schools, further and higher education, businesses and employment providers, look at best practice, what works and more importantly - how do we work more corroboratively so we are not competing against each other”.

One of the main issues which is specific to Leeds at the moment, she added, was a three-tier employment system that is actually causing problems for graduates and school-leavers.

In Leeds, there are plenty of low-skilled jobs in the hospitality and customer service sectors.

Likewise, there are opportunities being created in the very skilled sectors, particularly management, financial and legal firms.

However, there remains a gap in the middle section, which is seeing fewer jobs being offered that are suitable to qualified school-leavers and graduates with degrees or other academic qualifications.

Ms Wynne said: “There is a missing middle that is creating a problem for a lot of our young people.

“Many come out [of university] and end up working in a coffee shop as opposed to a graduate occupation.”

“There are lots of jobs out there and we have had the fastest public sector job growth of any city in the UK over the last few years, but lots of people with good qualifications are not finding their way through this complex system.

“There is also an 80 per cent employment rate in the city but we have got the issue where people that are unemployed are getting further left behind and have complex barriers that we need to remove before we get them into work.”

She said there was also an issue finding ‘aspirational work’ for school-leavers, who at just 14-years-old are being asked to make choices on whether to go to college or university, which GSCE subjects to take or whether to do an apprenticeship instead.

Ms Wynne also warned of an issue for some youngsters, who may not have followed a traditional education pathway, were ex-offenders or had spent time in care and subsequently become ‘disengaged’ from the system.

She added: “There are so many choices that they have to make and the system is not geared up in the right way to make informed choices.

“As a result as they become post 16 they don’t end up on the right career route for the aspirations that they have.

“The call to action would be how can we better support and help young people so less fall through the net?”

Traditional degrees are not enough to secure jobs claims careers expert

A traditional and stand-alone degree qualification is no longer enough to guarantee a job in an oversubscribed job hunting market, a careers expert in Leeds has warned.

Dr Jo Ingold, associate professor of human resource management and policy at the University of Leeds, will speak at the forthcoming Young People, Skills and Prospects in Employment conference, on the constraints surrounding the paths between education and employment.

She told the Yorkshire Evening Post yesterday that academic qualifications were no longer enough for job-hunters, during an age where businesses can “take their pick” of increasing numbers of candidates, and that traditional approaches to graduate jobs and salaries were changing.

Dr Ingold said: “Businesses have different ways of working, behaviours and characteristics that they are looking for.

“That is very difficult for people coming out of university with a particular qualification or strong line on a particular subject.

“There is a 50 per cent target to get people to university and I understand why there is that but it is the case where there is an over-subscription of people that employers can take their pick from and raise the threshold.”

Organisers at the university are now looking at ways where they can add to the skillset of graduates, by offering fresh elements to the curriculum and holding sessions that teach presentation skills, social skills and teamwork, for example.

One of the challenges that the education sector has is impressing the way that it works upon businesses, and the conference on March 29 aims to try and open up a new dialogue between the two.

In turn, benefits and packages being offered now from employers need to be more attractive, as many graduates and millennials are put off buying houses and having a family, in order to progress in their jobs. Flexible working hours and childcare also top the list.

Dr Ingold said: “Doing this builds partnerships with employers and while we don’t want to shoehorn our degrees into employer requirements, they can understand the graduates that we have.

“Students are concerned about it, they have all got work experience and have been on placements. They are really well-rounded graduates who have a lot to offer but it is not easy for them and we want to do all we can to help them find graduate careers.”

She added that Leeds was a “great place to live and work” and that the university wanted “to be competitive”.