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It’s time to invest in better Careers Education to prepare the workforce of tomorrow

It’s time to invest in better Careers Education to prepare the workforce of tomorrow 1

By Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First

Unemployment and access to skills and training opportunities continues to be a persistent challenge for young people, with the latest ONS figures revealing that over 700,000 young people are currently not in education, employment or training (NEET). Amongst those hardest hit are young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are twice as likely to be NEET than their more affluent peers. At the heart of this issue lies a critical lack of accessible work experience opportunities and quality careers education. Without this support, it is incredibly difficult for young people to explore the different career options available to them and build the employability skills that they will need to thrive at work.

This postcode lottery of careers education and opportunities has lasting consequences for students as they progress into adulthood. The most disadvantaged young people are half as likely as their wealthier peers to find work experience through family connections, and then go on to earn ten per cent less on average than those same peers, even for the same job.

No young person should be excluded from the chance to pursue their career ambitions because of their background or income. Sadly, this is the case for many young people, who lack the industry connections or the means to experience different sectors and get real-life experience.

In addition to hampering a young person’s professional potential, the lack of accessibility has a detrimental impact on businesses and industry by reducing the pool of talent and diversity within the future workforce. Poor quality careers advice has been identified as the main driver of the current ‘skills gap’ by 37% of UK businesses according to a 2021 survey conducted by the CBI.

Collaboration between industry leaders and the education sector is the key to unlock careers opportunities for all. Businesses know  better than anyone what skills are needed to succeed in their industry, and so they can help themselves by helping prepare young people for future employment.

Industry’s role in careers education  

Our careers report (LINK), launched today, sets out a number of recommendations on how to improve careers education and level up opportunities for young people in England. Increasing business engagement with schools and colleges is a vital part of that. We are proud to work with a number of  businesses as part of our careers work – but we need even more business leaders to work with the education sector to ensure that all pupils have the opportunities and support they need to thrive.

In practical terms, this could mean working with Careers Leaders in schools, or the establishment of various school engagement programmes. Guest speaker sessions in schools and at career fairs, for example, can provide businesses with opportunities to share their knowledge with both teachers and students. Teach First’s Careers Leader Programme looks to industry partners to help ensure that teachers in schools are able to deliver the very best careers guidance. This support has taken many forms, including pre-recorded video resources, developing a Business Directory with useful career information from partner businesses about opportunities within their organisations, and even a module delivered in partnership with Barclays. This module specifically aims to widen access to information around different career pathways and salaries, and thereby help to close the gap in career opportunities between disadvantaged and more affluent young people.

We also work closely with Goldman Sachs – in April, 100 pupils from schools across the country took part in a three-day residential delivered in partnership at their offices in London. The programme, which for many students would have been their first insight into the corporate world, included workshops to improve employability skills and sessions exploring the extensive range of careers opportunities. These first-hand opportunities are key for giving students an insight into the real life world of work.

It is critical that outreach programmes and support from industry partners are focused on schools most in need in disadvantaged and remote areas. Take Burberry for instance, who for the last five years have delivered Inspiration Workshops within schools across Yorkshire and the Humber to raise awareness of careers in the creative sector, amongst children from less affluent backgrounds.

More accessible work experience 

A key hurdle to many disadvantaged young people’s careers prospects is the lack of connections or financial means to find work experience. Students in more remote areas are less likely to have a variety of working environments and sectors to experience nearby, and as a consequence it can become incredibly expensive for students to travel to access work experience placements. However, as the pandemic has shown, virtual events and programmes can overcome many barriers to access, and present companies with the opportunity to offer low-cost careers events or workshops.

In addition, as proven throughout the pandemic, many modern jobs can be done effectively via remote working. By offering a virtual or blended work experience scheme, companies can provide young people with access to opportunities that previously they would have been excluded from due to location. Whilst in-person work experience will remain valuable – and essential in some sectors – virtual work experience schemes can help more young people access a vital first step in their careers. Outreach schemes should target students from disadvantaged areas, to ensure that opportunities are truly fair and open to all.

To properly equip our businesses and our young people for the future, investment of time, effort and resources is vital. Accessible and comprehensive careers education is essential to ensure that all young people are prepared with the skills and knowledge to succeed in the world of work. Business must do their part to provide opportunities and advice for those who aren’t able to access it through other means. Otherwise, they risk losing out on a pool of inspiring and diverse talent, and contributing to the already significant barriers facing young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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