Small businesses can play a really important role in helping young people transition from education into work. Richard Scothorne reflects on his work for the Federation of Small Business in Scotland, School Ties.
Small businesses are vital partners for schools in helping young people make a successful transition to work. This is the key conclusion of our new report for the FSB in Scotland, ‘School Ties’, which presents our research into the scale and significance of small business engagement with schools and how to transform its reach and impact. Although our work was built on interviews across Scotland the conclusions reflect other research across the UK. Our main findings are:
- Business engagement with schools – done well – can transform young people’s futures and earnings. For example, every meaningful engagement with an employer can increase a young person’s subsequent earnings by 4.5% and those who have encountered 4 or more employers while at school are up to 20% less likely to become NEETs
- It is really important to help small businesses (employing fewer than 50 people) engage with schools. Most businesses are small businesses (84%-87% in urban Scotland and 93-96% in rural Scotland)) and provide a high proportion of jobs (24% – 36% in urban areas in Scotland – and 60-72% in rural Scotland). Without engagement with small businesses pupils will be missing out on understanding a key part of the local economy and a significant source of great opportunities.
- Most small businesses are not involved with schools – mainly because both schools and small businesses find engagement difficult. It can take schools as much time and effort to set up a relationship with a small employer who may have an occasional opportunity as with a large employer who may have a number of regular opportunities. It requires sustained effort and energy, with a key role for Head Teachers in creating a profile for their school in local small business networks and organisations.
- But small businesses are willing partners – engagement needs to be made easy, and many just need to be asked. Those that are involved cite altruistic reasons for their involvement – small businesses see themselves as part of the local community with a role to play in supporting a range of community issues of which young people’s employability is one. However, most say that they gain business benefit from engagement – many citing reputational benefits as well as the value of the contribution made by pupils.
- Schools in the most deprived areas have hinterlands with relatively low levels of small business activity. They therefore need to spread their net wider to get the range of opportunities they need – and this suggests a collaborative approach with neighbouring schools.
- In rural areas – where most business are small businesses – it is particularly important for schools to develop a wide range of small business relationships rather than focus on a-typical larger businesses.
- Small businesses which are involved with schools contribute in a wide range of ways. It is important that businesses are helped to understand this range of opportunities and match their ability to contribute to the needs of schools and pupils.
- Teachers can benefit from engagement with pupils as much as pupils – bringing back new insights into how they can use to make their lessons more relevant to the world of work and enhancing their ability to provide useful insights into current and emerging opportunities in local businesses.
- …and parents – as business owners, employers, and employees – can provide an important way of making connections between schools and businesses.
On the basis of these findings we have developed a number of recommendations about how to transform the scale and reach of school engagement with small businesses and so enhance the opportunities for pupils to match their aptitudes, aspirations and interests with the world of work. This report is complemented by a recent assignment to review the work experience approach of a large local authority and make recommendations about how this can be placed in a much wider approach to employer engagement.
Download the full report here
…and our previous report on realising the employment potential of micro-businesses here