UK business leaders say all work and no play could leave teens ill equipped for future careers

A report launched by the National Citizen Service (NCS) reveals that the UK’s 15-17 year olds feel under significant pressure to excel in exams at the expense of other life skills, experiences, healthy relationships and even their own happiness, suggesting that they are struggling to juggle the demands of young adulthood. 

teenage careersThe research also shows that half of British parents believe their child should put school or college work before everything else if they want to do well in the future. Only 13% of parents think their child spending time on hobbies and non-school interests is of importance at this stage, and just one in five see gaining more work experience as a priority. 

In contrast, 63% of business leaders say the best young employees are those who have developed skills and interests outside the classroom and over half (55%) would like to see more young people take part in structured youth programmes to help them better prepare for the workplace.

The study, which polled 1,000 15-17 year olds and 1,000 parents with children of the same age, as well as 100 senior business leaders, shows that the pursuit of good grades is affecting the ability of teens to spend time developing important skills which could be of benefit in later life. This is backed up by the views of British business leaders, 67% of whom said they believe that younger employees come into the workplace lacking some of the necessary skills, such as time management and team working abilities.

In fact, 70% of business leaders agreed that many of the skills needed to do well at work are not taught in the classroom and their top advice to teens was to develop broader life/work skills before leaving education (51%) and to try to achieve a healthy balance between studying and socialising (42%.) 

There is also a misconception amongst young people looking for their first careers; 69% of 15-17 year olds think exam results are by far the most important factor when applying for jobs.

Yet business leaders say confidence and a polite manner are most important – 45% cite this, compared to 21% stating exam results are most important. 

Natasha Kizzie, director of marketing at NCS Trust, says: “Doing well at school is of course immensely important for young people’s futures, not just in terms of grades but in learning how to apply themselves to an activity, to prioritise effectively and to commit to seeing tasks through. But while it’s essential that parents and teachers instil an understanding of the value of hard work for later success in life, it’s concerning that so many parents and teenagers are failing to recognise the importance of developing a healthy balance between school work and other activities that can develop broader skills for work and independent living.”

Business leaders interviewed captured the following skills as most important for junior members to develop: 

  • Time management 45%
  • Prioritisation 39%
  • Social skills 39%
  • Team work 38%
  • Communication skills 38%

Natasha Kizzie continues: “With nearly two thirds (63%) of 15-17 year olds saying they would look to their parents for advice if they were struggling to cope with balancing school work and socialising/time for themselves, there is added pressure on parents to help guide their teens through these challenging years. And as we are hearing from businesses, there are many skills that parents need to encourage their teens to develop to give them the best chance of securing jobs in an increasingly competitive market.

“This is why NCS is launching this campaign in the hope of highlighting the importance of trying to find a good life balance at an early age, and providing parents with expert tips and advice on how to help their teens achieve this. We want parents/guardians to know that NCS is running programmes this October across England and Northern Ireland. A limited amount of places are currently available for 16-17 year olds. Your teen could spend one unmissable week this October developing crucial life skills – teamwork, leadership and communications skills – before they start applying for jobs or submitting their UCAS application.”

Jessie Link, head of engineering at Twitter, is one of a number of business people who have contributed advice to NCS’ new parents’ guide, launching 20 September. She says:  “Academia is of course important but it’s often the ‘extra curricular’ skills that take people to the next level, or help them challenge status-quos and ways of thinking.

“At Twitter, it’s important to develop teamwork skills, good communication and show empathy with our users. It’s so critical that young people take the time to develop these types of skills outside the classroom, whether that’s by playing sports, musical or artistic pursuits, or even just engaging with friends. Those who balance work with other life pursuits are the ones who are often the most productive and best to work with.”

Alongside Twitter, the following businesses have contributed to the advice guide: Santander, learndirect, GO Outdoors and the National Centre for Universities and Business. The advice guide is available at

Places are currently available for 16-17 year olds to experience NCS  – one unmissable week this Autumn across England and Northern Ireland – and develop their teamwork, leadership and communications skills before they start applying for jobs or submitting their UCAS application. To find out more information or sign up visit