Alison Watson, Founder of Class Of Your Own, recently boarded a Virgin Atlantic flight to Las Vegas where the excellent annual Autodesk University takes place. Unfortunately, her usual Sunday Telegraph was not available, but Mr Branson kindly supplied The Mail on Sunday (and some other really nice glossy magazines) for passengers.

Her eyes were drawn to an interesting article on page 43 by Mail journalist Valerie Elliot, entitled:

“745 youngsters are out of work in my town, so why can’t I find a recruit?”

The article began:

Skilled crafts are dying out in Britain because our failing schools are producing a generation of youngsters ill-equipped for working life.” The view of Mr Piers Hart, a cabinet maker from Thetford, Norfolk.

Mr Hart has recently taken on an enthusiastic, eager 18-year-old Lithuanian man with limited English skills as British teenagers “don’t know what a day’s work is”, citing a young local boy who had a ‘typical’ attitude towards the job opportunity: he “did not like it”.

Mr Hart blames ‘the education system’ for ‘failing to prepare them for employment’ and believes that government money should be spent on vocational training. The article concludes that ‘woodworking’ is still on the [UK] curriculum but is geared towards the building trade and does not teach the craftsmanship that is needed for high quality goods’.

In an earlier blog, we reported an exciting day with North-west teenagers about to leave school to venture into the ‘World of Work’. We visit many schools, and whilst we have some extraordinary days with amazing students, there does seem to be an apathetic view towards employment and the real world.

As an uninspired teenager herself back in the late 80s, Alison can relate to today’s kids who have the ambition to better themselves and who desperately want a great career, but they don’t have a clue what that means.

As a top-class student throughout her secondary school years, Alison still feel quite aggrieved that she’d wasted six years of her life before a chance meeting led her to the path she eventually chose in the professional ‘building trade’.

“It is SO IMPORTANT that young people from all walks of life have ambition and feel wanted. I get very emotional when I hear today’s youngsters say “what’s the point of studying? I won’t get a job anyway.” Small wonder there is such a NEETS problem.

Introductions to, and real life experiences in a range of jobs is so important, but from a young age. So much money is spent on 14-16 education when hormones and apathy have already kicked in, and it’s very easy to become a sheep.”

The girl in said earlier blog is a magnificent example of a young person who discovered her ideal on a real-life experience with a professional (the great folks at BDP Manchester), however, we assume the next day she went back to her normal way of life as nothing progressed from the opportunity (lightbulb moment – email the headteacher and take her on as a mentee).

Too late, we say, grip them while they’re young and instil the message of ‘be the best’ and ‘oh yes you can’ at KS3 or even earlier.

Mr Hart and thousands of employers like him are being forced to recruit foreign workers because our own home-grown kids are not equipped with basic skills. But could we  – as an industry and as employers (or indeed professional employees)  – do better by our schools?

After speaking with one of her favourite forward-thinking headteachers this week regarding the tendency to categorise engineering with motor vehicle maintenance (a fact which absolutely frustrates, nay angers, my colleagues in structural, civil, geomatic, geotechnical etc etc engineering), she realised that our own highly skilled ‘craftsmanship’ is not promoted in schools as well as it could be.

Her friend told her:

“Ali, the problem is, most of our teachers don’t understand what engineering is. We’re not told. We just follow curriculum.” So, are schools to blame? Can they be forgiven for going for the obvious route, if no one has ever knocked on the door and told them explicitly what’s out there, in the big wide world?

Class Of Your Own was set up to bridge the gap between schools and professionals in the Built Environment. Alison was telling her highly respected friend Eddie Murphy of Mott MacDonald that she wanted to start a campaign to help schools gain a better understanding of the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry.

And so, as she flew over the Atlantic towards America to join a gathering of hundreds of like-minded professionals from all over the world, she hoped to come back with a few more evangelists who can get real with teachers and thereby support our children’s creativity and aspirations.

If you are a school/teacher/student, tell us what you need and we hope, through our network of incredible professionals, to make some introductions.

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