The Government is being urged to reverse its “careless” decision to end compulsory work experience for school children, to help tackle youth unemployment.
A study by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) found that most firms and education leaders believe secondary schools should offer work experience for under 16-year-olds.
Just over a third of businesses do not offer any work experience, but many said they would if they had more information.
The poll of 3,500 business leaders and officials from schools, colleges and universities found different levels of work experience being offered, ranging from two week placements to visits for groups of pupils.
The report, published ahead of the latest unemployment figures, said most business, school and college leaders wanted ministers to recognise the importance of pre-16 work experience.
John Longworth, director general of the BCC said: “Business and school leaders are clear – we won’t bridge the gap between the world of education and the world of work unless young people spend time in workplaces while still at school.
“It was careless of Government to end compulsory work experience in 2012, but it is not too late to correct the mistake and work with companies and schools to ensure that every school pupil has the chance to feel the energy, dynamism, buzz and challenge of the workplace for themselves.
“Work experience is crucial to bringing down our stubbornly high youth unemployment rate. It will help ensure more young people are prepared for work. It will help close the yawning skills gaps reported by frustrated businesses across the UK, who face huge difficulty filling vacancies at every level.
“The Government must act to bring compulsory work experience for under 16s back in England. Devolved administrations must ensure that it is available to all in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We pledge to work with governments in all four nations to ensure that more and more businesses then engage with schools, offer work placements to young people, and help the next generation get the start that they deserve.”
The Wales Government announced a package of over £11.2 million to reduce the number of young people who are are not in education, employment or training.
Backed by £6.8 million of EU funds and supported by Jobcentre Plus, the project will help 6,000 people aged 16-24 in Wales’s most disadvantaged communities, supporting 1,500 young people into work.
Youth mentors and Jobcentre Plus specialist employment advisors will provide one-to-one guidance to help young people access education, training and employment.
Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Lesley Griffiths, said: “We want young people in Wales to have the skills they need and the opportunity to reach their full potential. This is why reducing the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training is one of our key priorities.
“The funding I have announced today will have a life-changing impact on thousands of young people here in Wales. The intensive one-to-one support from experienced mentors will give 16-24 year olds the confidence, skills and advice they need to re-enter education, undertake training or secure a job.”
Lucy Powell, shadow education secretary said: “This survey is yet more evidence that David Cameron’s education policy is seriously limiting opportunities for the next generation.
“Hundreds of thousands of young people are still unemployed, yet the Tories have downgraded careers advice in schools, scrapped work experience and neglected vocational education.
“The Government must now urgently break down the barriers between schools and businesses to support young people to develop the skills and experiences they need for the workplace and tackle the skills gap that is holding Britain back.”
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “The British Chambers of Commerce is right to flag up the mistaken policy of downplaying the importance of work experience and removing it as an entitlement for learners under the age of 16.
“The policy was accompanied by the removal of work-related contexts – learning about and for work – as a strand in the National Curriculum.
“At a time of high youth unemployment, this is surely a mistake, especially for those young people who lack networks among friends and family which can help them make connections with the world of work.
“As well as reversing these ill-conceived policy decisions, Government should take steps to ensure that all young people have access to learning about and from workers from a range of industries and employment sectors.
“This would involve empowering and funding local authorities to rebuild careers advisory services that have been lost due to Government cuts and facilitating links between schools, colleges and employers.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We trust head teachers to decide what is best for their pupils – including when and how to take part in work experience or work-related learning – and are providing valuable support for them through the Careers and Enterprise Company, which is working with secondary schools and colleges to support the development of relationships with local employers.”