Posted: 3 April 2014
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Where business and education meet

Business has a key role to play in inspiring the next generation, says Steve Holliday. National Grid’s Chief Executive outlines four priorities for making it happen.

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Where business and education meet

Where business and education meet

“There is more than enough activity going on: it’s the lack of co-ordination that’s the problem”

Steve Holliday, National Grid’s Chief Executive Officer


39% of recruiters predict they will not be able to employ enough STEM technicians in the next three years.

Source: Engineering UK

As a citizen of the UK, a parent and CEO of an organisation that recruits around 700 people a year in the UK, there’s one thing that keeps me awake at night: talent.


The UK’s engineering sector needs 87,000 bright minds annually to meet demand over the next decade, yet only 51,000 currently join the profession each year. This is a critical socio-economic problem that will ultimately decide the future prosperity of the UK, and one caused by the fact we’re just not educating and preparing people for the work we have.

Where’s all the talent?

It’s our responsibility as employers to help solve this. We need to be realistic with young people about where jobs will be in the future, so they can make informed career choices. Youth unemployment is scarily and stubbornly sat at around a million in the UK. Yet as I speak to other CEOs across a range of sectors, it’s clear that many are struggling to find the talent they need.

For example, Engineering UK estimates that between 2010 and 2020, there will be 1.86 million new jobs needing engineering skills. Yet 39% of recruiters predict they will not be able to employ enough STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) technicians in the next three years.

Four top priorities

The good news is that, with a little more action and a lot more co-ordination, we can turn this around. Business has a key role to play, and I believe there are four priorities we should focus on to make a big difference:

1. Have the right HR systems and policies. Against the backdrop of record youth unemployment, Business in the Community’s Talent and Skills leadership team launched Generation Talent, and invited businesses to use a simple assessment tool to ensure there aren’t any unconscious biases in their recruitment policies preventing them from accessing young talent. So far, over 90 employers have risen to the challenge and made 40,000 vacancies visible to unemployed people through Jobcentre Plus.

2. Work collaboratively. There are too many career initiatives out there, which means there’s both too much fragmentation and too much overlap. Solutions are not found in isolation. As part of the Energy and Efficiency Industrial Partnership, National Grid has joined with over 90 companies across the energy sector to deliver 11,000 new apprenticeships and traineeships over the next three years. Elsewhere, That Could Be Me is a careers experience we’re supporting at the Science Museum with a consortium of engineering businesses.

3. Get your people out. Research by the Education and Employers Taskforce into 19 to 24 year olds found that, of those who could recall no contact with employers while at school, 26.1% went on to become NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training). That reduced significantly to 4.3% for those who had taken part in four or more activities involving employers. That’s one reason why over 150 National Grid employee ambassadors regularly visit primary and secondary schools. This year we also partnered with VEX Robotics, the largest robotics programme in the world, to provide funding for a robotics competition between schools. Furthermore, we’ve been working closely with a number of schools and businesses over the past 12 months to develop a cross sector framework called Careers Lab. It’s been piloted in five schools across the Midlands and with input from teachers, we’ve designed four modules to inspire 11-16 year-olds about the world of work.

4. Get students and teachers involved. Our Work Experience programme, organised in association with the Smallpeice Trust, offers over 100 15-year-olds a week-long residential course at our dedicated Eakring Academy. We also host a series of Open House visits to our sites to give students and teachers an insight into future energy challenges and how gas and electricity systems work.

Setting an example

We’re on the verge of a crisis in the UK, with a million unemployed young people and companies going abroad to find the skills they need. Business has a fundamental role to play in averting this crisis. It’s our job to inspire young people for the future, ensuring the next generation understands the needs of business and what action they should take.

There is more than enough activity going on; it’s the lack of co-ordination that’s the problem. We can look to others for this, but what sort of example does that set? Businesses need to be more disciplined. We must all ask ourselves whether we’re focusing on the things that will create the most value for business and society.

Related links:

Steve Holliday on the UK skills gap.

The Careers Lab is a partnership between schools and business to bring the world of work alive to young people.

Generation Talent is a joint initiative between BITC and The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), developed by Business in the Community’s Talent & Skills Leadership Team to help businesses scale up the number of unemployed young people they recruit.

The VEX Robotics Competition, presented by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, is the largest and fastest growing middle and high school robotics program. Students, with guidance from their teachers and mentors, build innovative robots and compete year-round in a variety of matches, gaining both valuable engineering and important life skills.

Gas innovation in full flow