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Dr Deirdre Hughes
Commissioner at UK Commission for Employment and Skills
Dr Deirdre Hughes

Hot prospects for young people

Authors: Dr Deirdre Hughes Dr Deirdre Hughes, Commissioner, UK Commission for Employment and Skills

11 September 2012

High street franchises are making a strong impact in the world of skills. McDonald’s famously launched its foundation degree in 2010, and KFC recently unveiled a BA Hons ‘KFC degree’ delivered by De Montfort University.   Employer-led qualifications are popular, not least because the business usually foots the bill.  But how valuable are they for learners and the bottom line?

There’s no doubt that in recent years, the labour market has changed – and, if you’re a young person, not for the better.  Youth unemployment, often attributed to the recession, has actually been rising since 2005 as fewer entry-level jobs are created.  Employers are increasingly looking for experience as well as qualifications when taking on staff.  Findings from the Youth Employment Challenge, published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills last month, show just how rare a commodity experience is   - the number of full-time learners with part-time jobs has fallen by 50 per cent over the past 15 years, down to just two in ten.

So where do the fast-food giants fit into this?  Youth employment is high in franchises like McDonalds, where over half the workforce is under 21. So it’s a good source of employment for young people.  For young people keen to work their way up the food chain these qualifications are very popular. KFC’s bespoke BA honours course in business management is the first of its kind in the UK.  Restaurant managers work towards the qualification over three years whilst continuing their job and earning a salary.  And the cost? £9k in total, with half covered by KFC and the other half by the learner.

But do we need degrees of this kind?  Critics may point out that the focus should be on more Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), and that the UK’s future lies in cutting-edge technology.   Yet research from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills suggests we have no shortage of STEM graduates – what we have is a lack of entry-level jobs for those graduates.   Consequently, last year 40 per cent of STEM graduates went into non-STEM roles, and we have a pool of untapped talent. 

Those embarking on employer-led qualifications can be confident that they are developing the skills their employer needs and that they will be able to put those skills to immediate use.   And once acquired, strong business management skills are transferable to other areas of the economy.  There is considerable evidence showing that management capabilities are key to unlocking the potential of staff, and at an organisational level generating significant business gains.

Time will only tell how useful this blend of learning and earning is. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but for young people keen to move up the career ladder and gain qualifications along the way, it’s an option not to be overlooked.  It’s also clear that, far from being “McJobs”,  KFC and McDonalds are excellent examples of employers taking ownership of their skills needs and investing in their workforce.  My verdict? This may well be a recipe worth sharing....