Securing young people’s futures in a Covid-disrupted world

Our virtual event ‘Securing young people’s futures in a Covid-disrupted world’ threw up plenty of themes and ideas between panellist and guests, as we discussed how to ensure young people’s employment prospects are not lost to the economic fall out of the pandemic.

The event was opened and closed by our CEO Ashley McCaul and expertly moderated by Rosa Morgan-Baker, director of development at Skills Builder.

The heavyweight panel included Baroness Barran MBE, Minister for Civil Society at DCMS, Tony Wilson, director at the Institute for Employment Studies, Chloe Thorogood, a ThinkForward alumna and project worker at Leap Confronting Conflict, Alex Norris, MP for Nottingham North, Rebekah Kofo-Kasumu, associate director and finance business partner at ICG (and one of our business mentors) and Jill Baker, former executive principal at George Green’s School in east London and a ThinkForward trustee.

Panellists were joined by more than 100 guests from the education, employment and youth sectors. Everyone was in agreement that the situation facing young people is a serious crisis, with the potential to affect their immediate and long-term outcomes. A young person who struggles to find any or well-paid employment now, is at risk of also harming their career and pay prospects in the future.

Tony Wilson from the Institute for Employment Studies who partnered with us to host the event, stressed the importance of not permanently losing young people to the damage caused by Covid to the labour market. But there was also acknowledgement that it’s not always easy for employers to navigate the myriad of schemes that are available to them to support young people, and the role the sector has to play in supporting employers to take up these opportunities.  Alex Norris, MP for Nottingham North also added: ‘I think local authorities are well-placed to “host” the liaison between business, young people and schools, creating a single point of access.’

Our alumna Chloe spoke about the importance of young people developing a personal brand that works both on and offline and her own appreciation of being an apprentice. She said: ‘I was so lucky to have an apprenticeship with ThinkForward, it really propelled me into the working world. I was only 16 and didn’t realise how important it was going to be.’

Baroness Barran pointed out that apprenticeships spend is £2.5bn, double what it was ten years ago and that the government’s ambition is to triple the number of traineeships. She said: ‘They are helpful planks in the strategy to support young people into employment.’

Baroness Barran also spoke about the importance of new KickStart Scheme: ‘It’s really important because it gives young people great experience over six months, and takes the risk away from employers, making it very easy for them to do the right thing.’

There was recognition for the work ThinkForward does preparing young people for employment. Jill Baker who has first-hand experience of ThinkForward’s work as the former head of a school we work in, and who is now a trustee said: ‘I would like to see a ThinkForward-type coach for all our disadvantaged children.’

Job Centre Plus work with large numbers of young people, making it hard for them to really get to know a young person and personalise their advice. DWP’s Youth Hubs however, were identified as a great opportunity to work directly in communities and reach the right young people.

Providing mentoring and access to the workplace for young people was widely agreed to be vital. Chloe spoke passionately about the positive impact mentoring had on her and Rebekah from ICG, who mentors ThinkForward students at an alternative provision school in east London, spoke about the value of opening doors to young people:  ‘When I was at school I had no idea about financial services but I’m a chartered accountant now. We need to bring young people into businesses so they can see what is out there.’

Alex Norris, agreed and had a call to action for businesses: ‘I want employers to be proactive and to offer placements/mentoring/shadowing to young people that would not get to access them otherwise.’

There was widespread understanding that the situation is different across the country. We need regional knowledge to fully understand the labour market and barriers (ie poor public transport), but also local opportunities.

Going forward, young people’s lack of access to technology, which was brought to the fore during lockdown, is recognised as still being a critical issue to be resolved. If schools do have to close again we will still have young people unable to learn effectively because they don’t have the IT resources they need. In addition, to look for work and to work remotely, every young person needs to have the right technology in place. Without it they cannot compete in the jobs market on a level playing field.

ThinkForward continues to help young people on the programme to access grants so that technology is not a barrier to their progress.

Click on the link below to view a highlights video of the event. If you would like a copy of the full recording please contact

You can watch the opening film from our event here:

You can view the closing film here:




New trustees appointed

We’re delighted to have four new trustees on board to support ThinkForward as we start implementing our new five-year strategy.

Asi Panditharatna is the Divisional Director for Employment Services at the Forward Trust and has spent the majority of his career working in operational, business development and leadership roles in employability, vocational training, apprenticeships, regeneration and economic development. Asi spent ten years working at Catch22 and took them to their first ever Ofsted Grade Good for apprenticeships and vocational training. Asi is a school governor and was a member of the Mayor of London’s inaugural Skills for Londoner’s Task Force. Asi’s family is Sri Lankan in origin and continues to support children’s, young people’s and reconciliation charities in the country.

Kathryn Jack works as an Engagement Manager at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Kathryn is a ‘first generation’ university student and is now on her third apprenticeship since leaving school ten years ago – to qualify as a chartered manager in 2021/22. She is a passionate advocate for young people finding their voice. Kathryn has a lived experience of a more blended pathway into the labour market. She is also an experienced mentor on various SEND projects and is enthusiastic about encouraging socio-economic growth.

Keith MacDonald is a partner with EY, where he looks after the work they do in the Wealth Management sector, including chairing an industry Philanthropy Forum. He has supported the EY Foundation since its set up, is a member of NPC’s Development Committee, and is a member of Hope & Home for Children’s Public Sector Advisory Committee.

Robert Craig is the COO at the Skills Builder Partnership, Robert firmly believes in the potential of skills development to deliver social outcomes. Benefiting from accounting and law qualifications, he is an experienced FRAC chair. Robert also brings knowledge of having developed and managed Social Impact Bonds, with a background in strategy, consulting and impact investment.

Our chair, Charlie Green said: ‘I’m delighted to welcome four new trustees to ThinkForward’s board. As we embark on a new five-year strategy it’s an exciting and important time to join. They bring a broad range of experiences, skills and insights that will support the organisation to deliver on our new objectives and along with my fellow trustees, I’m looking forward to working with them.’

We will shortly be recruiting two young trustees. This is one way we can ensure the voices and needs of young people are heard, and that the decisions made by the board are informed by a broad range of outlooks and experiences.

Findings from our Covid-19 survey

As our young people head back to school and college or embark on the next stage of their journey, it’s a good time to reflect on the impact of Covid-19 on their well-being and what we need to do to address the various impacts.

More than half of our young people are worried about their future and a third say their mental health got worse as a result of the Covid-19 and the lockdown.

These are just two of the findings from a survey of 150 young people on our programme. We wanted to discover how the pandemic had affected them, and also use the findings to help us ensure we’re providing the best ongoing support.

London Year 12 student Fabiha said: ‘Lockdown took a toll on my well-being. I didn’t go out much, just for walks, with school being the main thing I missed – the learning, my friends and my teachers.

‘Coach’s calls are the highlights of my week, I bottle up all the things I want to talk to him about and when we speak it feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. When I feel a bit low, my coach has helped me to pick myself up again.’

A study by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that the average pupil lost three months of learning during lockdown, but that more than half of pupils at schools in the most deprived areas lost four months or more.

Our survey results suggest some reasons why some students were more adversely affected. It showed that many of our young people didn’t have access to technology or study space during their time out of school and college. For example, 36% of respondents would have liked a quiet area to learn and 31% had issues with internet access/data.

Looking ahead, there is recognition that it could be harder to get a job. Connor, a student in Kent who has just started Year 12, said: ‘I do worry more about my future now. I watch the news and see that a lot of businesses are facing uncertainty, there will be fewer jobs and no-one knows how long Britain will take to recover. I know that young people looking for jobs will be badly affected by the economic impact of Covid-19 but because I’m with ThinkForward and work with my coach I’m confident that I’m better prepared than many of them.’

We were delighted that young people felt they had been well-supported by their coach during lockdown, scoring us four out of five. In addition, 35% of young people said their coach was their main support provider and 25% said being connected with their coach helped them maintain their mental well-being.

After a long absence from their education and disruption in their lives, we know that many of our young people might need supported in different ways. As we start the autumn term, Ashley McCaul, ThinkForward’s CEO said: ‘We’ve used the findings from our survey to inform how we develop our programme to make sure our coaches are meeting new needs and supporting young people back to school and college. I’m sure times will still be challenging, but I’m confident we can all adapt and positively embrace the start of the new term.’