Education

Northern Ireland young people ‘not equipped’ to succeed in the workplace

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Young people in Northern Ireland are calling for the careers service to be modernised after a new survey found less than a third of students said they left school feeling equipped to succeed in the world of work.

ew research from think tank Pivotal found that local young people want to know more about changing trends in the job market, and to be given the chance to develop useful skills like communication and critical thinking — and parents, teachers and employers all agree.

Pupils said schools need to modernise the curriculum and careers advice to reflect today’s rapidly-changing job market.

The survey found that classroom time is too focused on coaching pupils to pass exams rather than on the broader education and development of children — including the sort of skills that will help employability.

Just 24% felt they were currently learning the skills they needed for employment.

And 69% have little to no knowledge of changing trends in the labour market — with only 30% of careers teachers feel they have enough time in their role to research and provide guidance about those changing trends.

The paper also found that vocational qualifications and Further Education Colleges are still sometimes seen as second-class options for young people, particularly by parents.

Ann Watt, director of Pivotal, said: “This report gives a voice to local young people, and provides a platform for them to explain how careers advice and skills development in schools could be improved, based on their lived experiences of the system as it currently stands.

“Schools should not just be about coaching children to pass exams, but about the broader development of young people.

“Part of that is preparing them for the future training, work and life through developing a range of transferable skills.

“Careers advice needs to be innovative, responsive and accessible. The status of vocational options must be elevated, to reflect the realities of employment.”

With less than a third of local young people (31%) saying they develop skills such as problem solving, communication, leadership and critical thinking in school, they said they wanted to learn life skills like budgeting and applying for a mortgage

Only 25% young people and 29% of parents feel that young people were currently learning the skills they needed for future study and employment.

Teachers called for careers advice to be prioritised, want principals and management to recognise that wider skills should be developed across the curriculum, and want stronger links between education and industry.

With 55% of young people feeling work-based learning experiences were the most helpful in shaping their future choices, they want work experience to be more varied and to take place earlier than Year 13.

Teachers want more consistent standards of careers guidance across different schools and for schools to put more resources into careers advice while employers want increased involvement in schools or with community outreach, to engage young people.

Only 30% of careers teachers felt they had enough time in their role to research and provide guidance about the labour market.

Despite the importance of Further Education (FE) colleges to the future of Northern Ireland’s economy and society, FE is often viewed as a lower-status pathway than A-levels and university.

Overall, the research showed a need for a greater emphasis in employability and skills training throughout the curriculum to prepare young people for the future workforce.

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