The MD of MyKindaCrowd tackled the issue head on
Today there are almost a million young people in the UK aged 16 to 24 years old who are out of work. Youth unemployment is an emotive subject that divides opinion, with attention-grabbing headlines about a lack of opportunity and job shortages, and others that point to a lethargic attitude to work.
In my view, the bottom line is that we have a generation that is struggling to find meaningful work and opportunities to develop their skillsets and launch their careers.
Young people inherently want to work. The reason they can’t or don’t work is almost always due to one of two things: either a lack of awareness of the opportunities available to them or because they lack the work-ready skills to get the job.
The general cessation of work-experience brokers across the country two years ago has had a negative impact on young people learning these vital workplace skills. The responsibility of arranging meaningful work experience now falls to schools and teachers, with the latter already over-stretched, while businesses have typically taken a ‘it’s not my responsibility’ approach, or are unsure how best to engage with schools on a large scale.
The result is a tragic reduction in the number of students taking part in work experience and a fall in the number of days available to those who do participate. The young people who do get offered workplace opportunities largely receive these from family or friends or acquaintances of their parents. The opportunities are there for advantaged young people.
This lack of opportunity for everyone else is brought into sharp focus with companies’ apprenticeship schemes. Typically associated with manual or purely vocational jobs, apprenticeships have changed significantly in recent years, with almost every industry rapidly expanding its opportunities.
The problem for young people is two-fold. Firstly influencers including teachers and parents do not know about these and therefore can’t help young people take advantage of them. And secondly companies still require work-ready skills before offering an apprenticeship.
However, times are changing. Industries such as IT, healthcare and engineering are recognising there is a very real skills shortage looming, as around a quarter of today’s workforce reaches retirement age in less than a decade.
Businesses are waking up to the fact that they need to act now and a fundamental shift is needed.
Opening up employment opportunities
The solution lies in building strong relationships between employers and schools, at a local and community level. While not always easy to establish, once made these relationships offer a highly collaborative approach that provides meaningful opportunities to both students and the organisations they engage with.
Stronger bonds between education establishments and businesses are essential, enabling employers to connect with future employees at an earlier age and support their learning to make it relevant to the work-ready skills they require.
It’s an approach that will help teachers deliver the skills young people need to enter today’s workplace. It also provides work experience opportunities that not only show young people what they can expect from the world of work, but what employers will expect of them with regards to relevant ‘employability’ skills.
Social enterprise in practice
Despite the challenges, it’s encouraging to see that many organisations in the UK are now looking to build direct links with young people. Brands including Tesco, BT, Thales and Nestle are working with MyKindaCrowd to launch ways to give young people a chance to showcase their skills.
The government is also taking a stand, with the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg championing a move to make access to work experience fair and open for all talented young people, through his Opening Doors campaign.
The working world is changing rapidly and young people have valuable perspectives and skills to offer businesses. It’s time to start forging strong relationships between businesses, schools and their students so we can transform workplace opportunities and build a strong economic foundation for the future.
William Akerman is managing director of MyKindaCrowd. He is passionate about social enterprise and transforming the way young people connect with companies and experience the world of work. He regularly engages with over 2,500 schools and 90% of universities in the UK, helping them to engage with leading brands and organisations.
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