Steve Easterbrook: Young people know the value of work experience in a recession

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Young people today face a double whammy of the toughest jobs market for a generation and shrinking university places and budgets – yet it seems some people still like to talk down work-based learning. I'm referring to the reaction in some quarters to McDonald's announcing it is the first employer to provide a qualification to the young people who complete one of our high quality work experience placements.

We give thousands of young people their first job every year. But for many of their friends getting that first taste of work is harder than ever. The Level 2 BTEC we offer recognises a wide range of work skills gained over 80 hours – a significant amount of time in schooling. It is understood by employers. It will help give young people's CVs a competitive edge. It is ultimately an investment in their employability. Work experience has never been more necessary; yet its value is put to one side by some commentators, who choose to debate this qualification's relative equivalency with its academic counterparts.

That misses the point. Work experience is a compulsory part of the curriculum for 14 to 16 year olds. Recognising good placements with a vocational qualification will raise expectations among students and teachers, and send a signal to employers to offer more varied and meaningful placements.

Young people see its merits. We polled over 2,000 14 to 19 year olds and eight out of 10 thought work experience would be more valuable with a national qualification. The same proportion said a strong academic record is not enough to get a good job. Over half of our 80,000 employees are under 21, and they are rightly ambitious about their future. The prospect of a nationally recognised qualification they can add to their CV gives them something tangible and builds their confidence. That is why 5,000 of our staff have signed up for our Apprenticeship programme.

Just as important, if they move on to another job in the hospitality sector or beyond, they take their qualification with them. It is transferable, valuable to their future earning power and to the wider economy in general. Constantly weighing up the relative merits of vocational and academic routes is not going to help keep young people in learning or safeguard their prospects.

Steve Easterbrook is president and CEO of McDonald's UK and President, Northern Division, McDonald's Europe