Mind the gap – the scandal of school-to-work transition

Youth unemployment is at record levels and the truth is that this is not purely a result of the recession or austerity measures; in fact, youth unemployment has been rising since the early 2000s.  If we are to stop this trend and fix the deeper structural issues surrounding youth unemployment we need to focus our attention on another scandal in our communities: the large number of young people who are failing to make a successful transition from school into the world of work. Many young people are being let down. They are leaving school without the skills or experience employers are looking for and ultimately, this is fuelling an even greater youth unemployment crisis.

Through our programme called ThinkForward, which places super coaches in schools who work with young people most at risk of not making a successful transition into work, we have learnt that there is no single answer or easy fix. But there are some simple things which can be done to help young people navigate their way from education into the labour market.

1. Start young – from the age of 14 years when young people are making GCSE decisions they need information about the types of jobs in their local area and guidance on the skills, experience and qualifications required for entry into these jobs. They also need space to discuss their future career goals and aspirations with teachers, mentors and professionals who will inspire them to succeed.

2. Contact with employers – research by the Education and Employers task force found that young people who recalled ‘four or more employer contacts’ were five times less likely to be NEET. The tragedy is that only 7% of those questioned recalled four such activities taking place. Surely, those of us who who work in  schools, voluntary organisations and the business community could together provide opportunities for young people to have meaningful experiences of work. As we have found through ThinkForward, this can include activities as simple as visiting a workplace or having a local business leader speak at a school to more involved activities such as having a dedicated mentor or completing a work experience placement.

3. Responsibility for post-sixteen destinations – the pressures schools face to achieve GCSE results coupled with recent changes to the provision of careers education and guidance mean there is little room in the curriculum for ’employability skills’. Yet if young people don’t learn these skills during their time at school, how can we expect them to be work ready when they leave? Businesses and charities must play their part and schools also must ensure they are giving young people the very best chance of future success once they walk through the school gates for the final time.

4. Extra support for the most vulnerable – our ThinkForward super coaches support young people most at risk of making a successful transition, from the age of fourteen through to nineteen. We believe this continuity of support helps young people not only get a job or college course but to stay with it.  There has been much criticism of employment programmes that last for three or six months with no ongoing support. For those furthest away from the labour market, having a named coach who will stick with them and help them navigate the complexities of their personal life and the world of work can make the difference between a young person making a successful transition from school into work or getting stuck in a gap unemployment with significantly reduced prospects.

Rhian Johns is the Policy and Communications Director at Private Equity Foundation and will be speaking at The Work Foundation and Private Equity Foundation’s next fringe event at the Labour Party Conference.

Stemming the NEET tide

Debate around the shocking number of NEET young people and youth unemployment is inevitably focused on what the government is going to do NOW.  That’s important, but it makes no sense for all our efforts to be concentrated on emergency flood relief.  Just as urgent are solutions further up stream, because regardless of when we see an upturn in the economy, another generation of disengaged young people is waiting in the wings.

According to government figures, almost 400,000 children missed at least a month’s worth of lessons in the school year 2010/11, with those on free school meals or with special educational needs, around three times more likely to be persistently absent.  Of pupils who miss between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of school, only 35 per cent manage to achieve five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths.

Many are children like Luke, the subject of a short online film that gives us a glimpse of his world.  Luke has aspirations.  He wants to be a vet.  What is heartbreaking is that at just eleven he already senses that somehow that is a step too far for someone like him and that he probably won’t make it.

What can we do for Luke?  A lot.  Early intervention programmes, backed by PEF, look beyond the classroom to resolve challenging circumstances at home, work in schools to give mental health support, and provide near peer mentors, all with the aim of improving attendance and academic attainment in areas of deprivation.

In addition, ThinkForward, PEF’s latest breakthrough programme assigns ‘at risk’ 14 year olds with their own ‘super coach’ who works with them right up to age 19, giving them a personalised action plan, workplace mentor, introductions to business networks and work opportunities.

My dream is that we can get to young people like Luke before they stop dreaming.  While of course we must do everything we can to for the current cohort of young people without work, let’s not leave it all so late for Luke.

Shaks Ghosh, Chief Executive, Private Equity Foundation