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Opinion6th September 2017

How can we address the employment skills gap?

[[{“fid”:”190961″,”view_mode”:”default”,”fields”:{“format”:”default”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:”Chloe Holmes”,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:”Chloe Holmes”,”field_tags[und]”:””},”type”:”media”,”link_text”:null,”attributes”:{“alt”:”Chloe Holmes”,”title”:”Chloe Holmes”,”style”:”float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; height: 100px; width: 100px;”,”class”:”media-element file-default”}}]]Chloe Holmes is the Professional Pathways Manager at Ark, part of the Pathways & Enrichment team. Previous to this, she was the Chief Executive of Highbury Vale Blackstock Trust. She completed the Teach First programme and was Deputy Head of English at Ark Globe Academy.

Research recently published by The Prince’s Trust and HSBC found that 43% of young people feel ill-prepared for work, and that they lack the confidence and soft skills needed to prosper in employment. More than a quarter of teachers (27%) think that most of the students they teach don’t yet have all the soft skills required to do well after school, and 91% think schools should be doing more to help students to develop these skills.

At Ark, we are tackling this head on. We have developed the Professional Pathways programme, a new and unique approach to teaching our BTEC Level 3 qualifications. It aims to prepare students for an increasingly diverse education and employment landscape.

Professional Pathways offer a high quality alternative to A levels, and aims to secure positive destinations for every student: either through further study at university or higher and degree level apprenticeships.

In order to achieve this, a student’s normal BTEC programme of study (equivalent to 3 A levels) is enhanced by three additional elements:

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The curriculum projects focus on helping students to apply learning to a real-life context. Business students have worked on real marketing or event briefs from specialist teams in these areas and Applied Science students will be working with lab technicians to understand how they manage large facilities.

Our bespoke work-readiness curriculum gives students time and space to understand how to write emails, act professionally and present with confidence. Young people on the programme meet companies that employ both apprentices and graduates – so that they can weigh up the merits of different pathways.

Most importantly, teachers are empowered to coach students through to the right destination, and are held accountable – not just for the grades of their students – but for where they end up after school.

The programme pilot concluded this summer, with an initial cohort of 26 students completing their study of the Business BTEC Extended Diploma. 96% of them received offers from university, and many are also still waiting to hear back from apprenticeship applications to companies such as Accenture, Goldman Sachs, and Capgemini. 24% of the group are progressing to Russell Group universities and taking on courses such as International Business at the University of Manchester, Economics & Management at the University of Sheffield, and Construction at UCL.

The programme has expanded rapidly, and in the 2017/18 academic year there will be over 250 Professional Pathways students, making up just over 20% of all Ark sixth form students. This includes the pilot of a new pathway in Applied Science, partnering with Imperial College London and In2Science to prepare students for careers in STEM.

We’re really proud of the progress that has been made with Professional Pathways. A growing number of schools and programmes means that we are always seeking more partners and supporters. If you would like more information, or can help with any of the below, please email Chloe Holmes:

Priscilla’s story

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Priscilla was one of the first students to participate in the Professional Pathways programme and, after seven years at Ark Globe Academy, she is about to embark on the next stage of her education.

“I wanted to stay at Ark Globe because of the teachers, because they’ve known me from year 7 until year 11, and I knew they would be able to offer me the best support.”

Professional Pathways provided Priscilla with the option she needed in order to stay on at sixth form, and the more she found out about it, the more it appealed to her.

“What was going to happen within Professional Pathways was also something that attracted me; working with businesses, visiting businesses, and focusing on coursework.”

Ark Globe’s partner business was the international construction company, Bouygues UK, and Priscilla has spent the last two years working with their staff and visiting their sites. She says, “Our recruitment project with Bouygues helped us with our communication and improved our skills. We also did some marketing with Bouygues – we learnt how we could market their buildings to their clients.”

The work with Bouygues didn’t just help Priscilla to improve her skills, it also transformed her view of a career in construction, and completely changed the path she wanted to pursue. When she started the course, she had a very stereotypical view of what a career in construction would involve.

“To me, a career in construction was mainly building on sites, wearing helmets, mainly male, building with bricks and all that!

“Working with Bouygues, I realised that there’s a lot going on before they actually start building. There are different departments, they have people to look at finance, people to look at planning, architects. There’s a lot. It was very different from what I expected.”

So how did this change her plans for what she will do when she finishes school?

“My current plan for what I’m going to do next? I’m going to be studying Construction Project Management at UCL. When I finish, I will hopefully be working in a construction company doing project management.”