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It was very exciting to attend the Career Academies UK National Conference in Canary Wharf at the end of June, writes Alexia Chandler-Sfikakis, Trainee Paralegal. Approximately 250 employers and educationalists attended the conference, held on 22 June, whose title this year was ‘The Skills We Need for the Future’.

The aim was to share thoughts and exchange innovative ideas about the work of the charity, founded in 2002, which supports over 900 employers and 133 schools and colleges in its aim of “tackling social mobility and raising the aspirations of 16 to 19 year olds, boosting their employability skills by giving them real life experiences of the workplace.” The focus this year was on the ever-growing skills gap in the UK, along with the lack of information given to today’s younger generation about the variety of career routes available to them.

The day started off with a brilliant opening speech by Career Academies’ UK CEO James McCreary, who stressed the importance of creating strong links between business and education. He explained how the academies that have been developed to date have been put in place to improve key skills and build relationships for the future, this obviously being a benefit to both employers and students themselves.

Key questions addressed throughout the day were rising university fees, and the lack of hands-on experience given to students. For many employers and students alike, there is lack of consensus on what to do about this and how to apply qualifications to practical work.

Next on the stage was Tony Collins, CEO of Virgin Trains, who gave enormous insight into this problem. He stressed that far too much emphasis has been placed on getting students into university, rather than focusing on enabling young people to develop their work-related skills. He said his company originally hired graduates on academic ability alone, but noted that many of them “lacked the employability skills needed to get on well in the world of work.” As a result, Virgin Trains began recruiting on an aptitude basis and honing their new employees’ skills in a training academy. He said: “Our experiences with Career Academies UK has opened our eyes to how employers and educationalists can work together. It’s a big shift in focus, but if we work together now, we can start to make a positive change.”

Throughout the course of the day, there were round-table discussions, along with plenty of time for networking. Tony Collins and James McCreary were both extremely supportive of the scheme Lyons Davidson has been involved in Leeds, which gives school leavers the tools to tap into their key skills. This involves everything from taking students on visits to the Supreme Court in London to see the legal system in action to giving talks on the law and exploring ILEX as a career route. We also assign mentors to help students with writing CVs, applying for higher education, and attending university open days with them. This subject is very close to my heart, as I joined Lyons Davidson straight out of sixth form and have had incredible backing from the partners ever since.

Myles Bigland, ILEX’s regional liaison officer, who was also an attendee, said he was striving to encourage law firms across the country to promote this kind of alternative route to qualifying as a Legal Executive, and said he was impressed with such proactive methods of investing in young people.

Another recurrent theme throughout the course of the day was key skills in which university graduates were lacking. These were identified as:

  • Communication;
  • Organisation;
  • Observation and Analysis;
  • People Skills;
  • Awareness (i.e. the ability to articulate one’s own skills);
  • Leadership;
  • Adaptability;
  • Initiative;
  • The ability to exude self-confidence – but not arrogance;
  • Presentation.

Chris Morecroft, President of the Association of Colleges pointed out in his address that qualifications themselves were not the whole story: “We need to show that there are other, equally valuable routes into fulfilling employment. Not everyone needs a degree.”

The day was a great success, covering fascinating subjects and was extremely thought-provoking overall. I look forward to next year’s conference.

Click here to learn more about Career Academies UK.