Now more than ever it is vital to demonstrate to people that they have valuable skills, no matter what qualifications or work experience they have, or don’t have.
You only need to look at who the key workers are in the pandemic to see that some of the most useful skills don’t come from having a degree or an A-level, or even a GCSE. I’m not saying qualifications aren’t important, but that we need to make sure people know that skills can come in many forms and are transferable between jobs.
Before the pandemic, I used to run workshops with kids to help prepare them for life after school. We would do role-play interviews and sessions on how to do job applications.
On one occasion, I asked a group of 16-year-olds to write down their skills. None of them wrote a single word. This particular group, who struggled academically, assumed they weren’t skilled. Yet after chatting to them, I discovered they had part-time jobs, or were carers, or played on a sports team. Through different routes they all had skills that made them employable, but no one had ever told them these were relevant. Even those in work didn’t realise that what they did in one type of job would be useful in another.
It was a lightbulb moment for me, and them. And this wasn’t an isolated incident, nor have I only heard this from young people.
There are currently 1.7 million unemployed people in the UK. Yet at the same time there are more than half a million job vacancies across a variety of sectors.
That’s why on my Channel 4 show Steph’s Packed Lunch I’ve launched a job clinic. Each week, we’re getting employers from different sectors to tell us about their vacancies, requirements and pay. We also offer tips on everything from online interviews to what to put in a CV. I want to help show people, of whatever age or background, that there are lots of organisations looking for people like them.
For example, the communications business Openreach told us on the show that it is trying to recruit thousands of engineers, and that applicants do not need any engineering experience. As Openreach director Matt Hemmings put it: “If people have got the right attitude, the right mindset, the right customer service and teamwork ethos, we can train them to be great engineers.”
We heard similar things from Specsavers, Bupa, Facebook and Boots, which have vacancies at all levels that don’t need sector-specific experience. Julie Stephens, people operations director at Bupa, explained: “We have seen retail managers, for example, transferring to be home managers or practice managers, which is great.”
I want to show people that whatever job they might have left, particularly in hard-hit sectors such as retail and hospitality, they have options, but that, like the kids I met in the classroom, they might not realise that they do.
People have been snobby about skills for too long. As a business journalist, I have visited more than 1,000 workplaces across the UK and seen first-hand how some of the most skilled people are not the workers typically classed as skilled. There is a simple explanation for this: people who have done on-the-job training or vocational qualifications are not seen as being as clever as those who have followed a purely academic route.
This is wrong. I did an apprenticeship supported by a local college and it has helped me in every job I’ve had, from engineer at Black & Decker to BBC journalist to Channel 4 host. It gave me transferable skills.
And yet this type of learning is woefully undervalued. You only need to look at the recent fiasco around whether BTec students should or shouldn’t sit exams to see they are still not given parity with their peers doing GCSEs or A-levels. The funding reflects that, too. Further education colleges, where many people do vocational training, have had their funding cut by nearly a third over the past decade.
This skills snobbery, which in my opinion is enforced by government definitions of what counts as skilled, is holding back many people from applying for jobs that they are more than capable of doing. I want to change that. So, along with all the consumer advice, gardening tips, crafting and cooking we do, I also want our show to inspire people and to help them to realise their worth.
This isn’t just about coronavirus. Recent research from the Confederation of British Industry has found that nine out of 10 workers will need to retrain by 2030 in order to keep up with changes in the world of work.
Now is the time to use whatever platform we have to ensure that people and communities are not left behind.
Steph McGovern presents Steph’s Packed Lunch, weekdays from 12.30pm on Channel 4