Elements of a great placement

I have often been asked what makes a great placement, and although I’ve not published this before, the list below is a combination of the best practice I have witnessed and recommendations I propose.WorkPlacementsDoneWell Continue reading


Don’t be deterred by contractual obligations

Employers – Are you thinking about starting a placement scheme? Great! Are you worrying about the long-term commitment? Don’t!

Organisations considering running a program of undergraduate placements sometimes worry that it will be a long-term commitment. Such fear can completely destroy any prospect of creating a placement scheme. It’s good to remember that these things don’t have to last forever.

Man Signing Contract

[Image courtesy of forbes.com] Continue reading

Got a round hole? Find a round peg.

As I wrote last year, mentors do an important job. Many organisations have excellent schemes for apprentices or graduate trainees and they deliver tremendous results. They have carefully planned development programmes, run by the best people. And they make adjustments when things change, as they surely do, over the years.

But some organisations don’t enjoy the same success despite their best intentions. It isn’t always immediately obvious why they under-deliver. The long timescales inherent in personal and professional development programmes don’t help. But one of the reasons is that the wrong people are involved.

Helping others isn’t for everyone. Some don’t enjoy it; they don’t see the value; or they don’t have the patience. Whatever the reason, some just aren’t cut out for it.

Square Peg Round Hole

Continue reading

Learning to grow: what employers need from education and skills

The CBI has recently published its Education and skills survey for 2012 entitled
Learning to grow: what employers need from education and skills.

As you might expect from a body as competent as the Confederation of British Industry in partnership with Pearson, it is full of fascinating statistics presented with startling clarity. There is good news and not-so-good news.  And in places, some really bad news.

It is now absolutely clear that it’s the employability of graduates which is important – not just the degree.  This is brilliant news because it is fixable and doesn’t point to a fundamentally flawed system.  Certainly it indicates a shortcoming in the current arrangement of academic qualifications at secondary schools, leading to university places without any real-world experience, but this can be addressed.

The comforting news is that Employability skills are far and away the most important factor considered when recruiting graduates, ahead of Degree subject and Relevant work experience/ industrial placement (81% versus 70% and 68% respectively).  This is comforting because we’ve believed it for a long time; we’ve felt it and we’ve heard it said.  Now we have the hard facts – evidence from what employers are saying.

For the purposes of clarity here, the CBI definition of Employability skills is summarised as a positive attitude, underpinning:
  • Self-management
  • Teamworking
  • Business and customer awareness
  • Problem solving
  • Communication and literacy
  • Application of numeracy
  • Application of information technology

Employer satisfaction with school/ college leavers’ employability skills is catastrophically low.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the use of IT scores highest, but with just 12% very satisfied. None of the other factors is rated higher than 5%.
In the case of graduates, the figures are better, but hardly encouraging.  Again, the use of IT scores highest with 26% very satisfied, with none of the other factors rated higher than 16%.

There are some clear actions resulting from this, and the report recommends greater emphasis on employability skills at secondary schools.

Employers believe much of the damage is caused by neglect or failings further upstream, and suggest that numeracy should be a priority for primary education.  Given what we’ve come to believe about our current education system, this is probably not a surprise.

The report contains some seriously bad news too:
“There is, however, some research suggesting the number of adults with poor numeracy has increased over the past eight years and that one in two adults now has numeracy skills roughly equivalent only to those expected of children at primary school, meaning for example that they may not be able to understand pay and deductions on a wages slip.”   [Reference: 17 million adults have poor numeracy skills, National Numeracy, February 2012].

Hard to believe – one in two adults!  This didn’t happen overnight – it is the result of a long decline in standards, combined with changing beliefs and experimental methods.  In any case, recovery from here is going to be a long haul, and take a huge investment coordinated across multiple stakeholders.  This is not going to be easily fixed.

It’s a bit like carrying an organ donor card

Stats from the NHS suggest that whilst more than 94% of us would expect to benefit from a donor organ should the need arise, only 29% of us carry an organ donor card.  Similarly, only 4% of the UK population give blood – a staggeringly low proportion given the personal “cost”.

When unleaded fuel was first introduced to the UK in the late 1980’s, the takeup was very slow.  This was partly owing to the engine-tuning changes which were needed, but even when new cars were compatible with unleaded, the takeup remained stubbornly slow.  It was only when unleaded became significantly cheaper than the alternative, that it began to change, and unleaded sales overtook leaded and diesel.  Drivers could directly feel the benefit for themselves, immediately.

We all understood then, that it was a good idea to switch to unleaded, just like we all understand now, that it’s a good idea to carry a donor card.  So what are we waiting for?  It seems we need to feel the effects of the gain personally before believing it, and deciding how to behave.  The debate in the UK over whether or not we should have an opt-out system (rather than the current opt-in) will no doubt continue whilst we consider civil liberties, rights, information security and such.  But I’m fairly sure that if you told someone who was suddenly critically in need of a donor organ, that they could only receive the organ if they themselves held a donor card, they would sign up instantly.  In this case it’s easy to feel the gain personally, and the resultant behaviour is easy to predict.

Is this why we have so few placements available for students?  Employers aren’t actually feeling any real pain, so they don’t do anything about it?  Can we make it more painful for them unless they create places?  Or, better, is there something we could do which makes them feel the benefits as soon as they create places?  Doing something might be more effective than waiting and hoping for the best.

Gosh, it must be so hard for those at the NHS who encourage us to donate blood or organs – they must encounter so much apathy!  I feel for them.

Footnote – as a result of this, my immediate personal action is to register with both services.  Doesn’t take much thinking about really, does it?