The first day of the Society and Citizenship Zone Conference 2012 has been rounded off by a panel debate about the connection between education and employability.
Each member of the panel was invited to introduce themselves and explain the key issues as they see them currently.
Piers Telemacque, president of Bradford College Students’ Union spoke about his best friend Chris who has three children. Chris has applied for around 200 jobs in the last three months, had responses from four, and only had one interview. He didn’t get a job from this interview.
Piers explained that the common narrative is a false one – young people without jobs are not lazy, they just face “barrier after barrier after barrier.”
Piers went on to talk about the importance of strong and relevant lessons in the basics of politics in schools. These should include how to vote, the main differences between parties, and the difference between left and right wing. But it should also include how young people can influence politics. If students can make positive changes in their communities while they’re a teenager at school, the sense of empowerment would stay with them for life. Yet it would also provide young people like Chris with the skills and experiences to stand out in their job search.
Peter Smallwood, vice president academic representation from Brunel Students’ Union asked how student leaders can really be the change when it comes to employment in this country. Students’ unions should be making employability something that students think about from day one of university, he said. “It’s not about the piece of paper at the end, but what you do with that piece of paper.”
Peter sees students’ unions as an untapped resource when it comes to employment. “We should be working hard on personal development to make sure that every student who leaves university can say they’re a rounded graduate.”
Martin Edmondson from Graduates Yorkshire started by explaining that he recently helped the British Council set up a graduate scheme; there were with 27,000 applications for the 20 jobs available.
Despite this, Martin is optimistic about the future. He explained that only 10% of graduates will get onto a scheme with large employers, yet these are the schemes that are emphasised by universities. There are huge opportunities with small businesses – half of all employed people in the UK work for small businesses yet these are not the organisations talked about in university circles. It should be students’ unions emphasising these opportunities.
Before delegates were invited to ask questions, Jeni-Marie Pittuck, president of City College Norwich explained her own journey through further education and then into employment. However, she asked how many people there are like her who slipped through the net.
Jeni said that she believes students’ unions should be lobbying councils and local government for more apprenticeships, and that it is not necessary for young people to go into higher education to be employable. “It’s about who you are, not what you have on a piece of paper.”
Delegates finished by questioning the panel on whether it should actually be the job of students’ unions to link students with businesses, and why the focus is always on employability and not unemployment.