While university is a popular choice for school leavers, well-paid vocational alternatives can also help jump start a successful career, as Europa Worldwide Group’s Rob Ross discusses.
For many young people with ambitions to become business leaders, the options after leaving school are limited. Despite progress, government support and countless attempts to shake up the system, educational and societal pressures mean university remains the preferred route over vocational options.
Europa is determined to change this, believing that businesses of all sizes, across sectors, must play their part in changing perceptions, reaching out to, and nurturing the next generation.
Our managing director Andrew Baxter is a shining example of how a vocational route can get a career off to a flying start – he left school at 18 years old and entered the business world with no intention of going to university. Now, he directs an international business, employing 900 staff and is on course to exceed £220m turnover mark by the end of this year.
Jump-starting a career
On-the-job learning must have the status it deserves. It helps young people jump-start their career and enter the job market with viable opportunities, without being saddled with thousands of pounds of debt from university tuition fees. Surely this is a win-win situation for both businesses, the economy and young people?
“Home-grown” talent brings a multitude of advantages to a business. By nurturing a young person’s career from an early stage, employers can embed the skills required for their specific operational needs. In turn this results in a workforce of highly-trained staff who understand core business needs, its market and strategic direction.
Cross-organisational training across disciplines at the early stages also brings its advantages, resulting in strong working relationships across a wide range of staff. Such working creates better customer service and improved motivation, leading to an increase in profit and productivity levels.
We can look to Andrew as a leading example. He had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve from a young age – both in terms of his own career, but also profit and productivity. Early on, he learnt to listen to colleagues learn from their experience, which helped make his vision a reality years later, when he worked his way up to operations director of the freight transport company he joined from school and later bought Europa Worldwide Group.
Challenging social mobility
Career progression and the provision of well-paid jobs are also vital if business leaders are going to improve social mobility and diversify our workforces. According to the Social Mobility Commission’s recent State of the Nation report, just 26% of young people from low income families go to university. The prospect of thousands of pounds of debt at the end of a course, high living costs and the competition in securing a job afterwards, continue to mean that many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are prioritising entering work over higher education.
On-the-job learning must have the status it deserves. It helps young people jump-start their career and enter the job market with viable opportunities, without being saddled with thousands of pounds of debt from university tuition fees”
For this reason, apprenticeships provide a direct route into employment and are helping to address social mobility. However, from his own experience, Andrew believes well-paid opportunities for particularly talented young people who have the potential and ability to reach senior leadership roles are few and far between.
A route to the top
With this in mind, we have recently launched Europa Worldwide Group’s Rapid Career Development Programme, designed to bring on board 40 ambitious young candidates, straight from school or shortly after they leave.
In the first year, employees experience operational and sales training preparation, developing an independent business base. They start as a sales operator, learning the basics of customer care and understanding sales techniques, as well as getting hands-on account management training. This allows them to develop their own business base, but with the support of the wider team.
We expect that by year two or three, employees will be managing their own portfolio of customers and getting involved in selection, recruitment and training.
L&D job opportunities on Personnel Today
The benefits to businesses offering schemes like Europa’s are powerful and long lasting. We expect retention rates to remain high, with employees guided, trained and supported to reach senior leadership roles. Although employees will be recruited into a single Europa division – Road, Air & Sea, etc – they will be exposed to all parts of the business during an intense four-year rotation programme. As such, relationships are built across divisions and cross-working is enhanced.
Our first 18-year-old recruit onto the programme, Max Holbrook, left school last year. He knew in the sixth form that university wasn’t the right route for him – instead he was determined to get into a career straight away and learn on the job.
But for more young people to have the confidence to go straight into work, prejudices around not going to university have to be dispelled. Business leaders and HR teams can offer the opportunities, but the education system must also provide young people with balanced and fair information about potential routes after school.
In 2019, learning on the job can no longer be perceived as second best. We need to train people for the roles of the future, ensure adaptable skills, boost productivity levels and contribute to the wider economy by rethinking post-school development.