From education to employment

How businesses can improve diversity and inclusion by engaging with young people

During National Careers Week last month, The Student<>Employer Network launched a report, ‘Connecting employers to students: a practical guide for engaging young people with the world of work’ to help UK businesses reach out to engage students and young people with meaningful work opportunities.

Career Accelerator is part of the network and we have co-authored the report with three other social enterprise leaders: Christine Kinnear, CEO, With Insight Education; Patricia Mbangui, Centre Leader, IntoUniversity Walworth (formerly at CoachBright) and Laura North, CEO, We Speak. We pooled our knowledge to help businesses develop impactful outreach programmes for young people.

Businesses are increasingly recognising the value of engaging in outreach programmes to address their skills shortages, build diverse talent pipelines and tackle growing inequalities in education and employment, as well as provide developmental opportunities for their employees.

We also know that students who engage with businesses at an early stage can develop knowledge and skills that are valued in the workplace. Simultaneously, employees can strengthen their transferable skills through mentoring, guiding or training young people, as well as increasing motivation. There is a dual argument for working with students based on corporate social responsibility and of recruitment and retention.

Our address aims to address the growing concern at the lack of meaningful connections between schools and businesses, and how this debilitating inequality affects students and young people from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds the most.

We show businesses how they can connect with young people at school or college in ways that will benefit their organisation, and at the same time boost employment opportunities for young people.

Plugging the diversity gap

Getting diversity and inclusion right has never been more important, not least because of the wave of people quitting their jobs following Covid-19 known as the Great Resignation[i] and the growing skills shortage and war on talent. Building more diverse talent pipelines for the future by engaging with young people is a real opportunity for businesses to offset these trends.

Our recommendation to businesses is that diversity and inclusion should be at the forefront of any programme delivery to engage young people. Organisations that embed diversity and inclusion successfully in their programmes are insight led, have examined their own diversity and inclusion data, acknowledged and addressed existing diversity gaps and ensured diversity and inclusion is at the heart of their mission.

Further recommendations include investing in soft skills and collaborating with schools, charities or social enterprises to run programmes with students so they can develop soft skills before they start work. Initiatives such as reverse mentoring programmes between students and colleagues for instance can help people develop soft skills. 

Firms can also improve diversity by offering paid work opportunities. Unpaid work opportunities and internships can exclude young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Companies therefore could offer paid part-time work for young people instead of asking them to volunteer to broaden the opportunities open to them.

At Career Accelerator we are providing meaningful training and volunteering opportunities to digital companies through school outreach opportunities, which is helping to empower future business leaders, whilst nurturing tomorrow’s diverse talent. Essentially, we support companies to become attractive places for underrepresented groups to work.

To date, Career Accelerator has collaborated with over twenty digital businesses and 30 schools. Some of the businesses we have worked with include Vodafone and Just Eat Takeaway.

Through Career Accelerator Vodafone ran school and LGBT+ mentoring connecting their employees with young people aged 14-25 which, alongside helping the young people, also acted as a reverse mentoring experience for their staff. Employees benefited from getting involved with meaningful volunteering, improving their own mentoring and coaching skills and also learning from their mentees about different lived experiences.A spokesperson from Vodafone said it was refreshing to engage with young minds; learn what they need, so they can create better conditions for young people who decide to join Vodafone.

Just Eat Takeaway ran STEM outreach, offered black heritage work experience as well as enabled students to talk to the Founder and CEO at Just Eat Takeaway. Students benefited from making informed post-16 and post-18 choices, gaining real world experience and building their professional networks. One such student was Naomi Hunter, a student at the University of Cambridge. She said it was a careers programme like no other and as someone who did not take STEM subjects at school, had little prior knowledge about a career in the tech industry. However, after watching an introduction to the programme and getting an interactive tour of Just Eat’s head office she was exposed to a diverse range of careers in the world of tech.

Naomi took part in 1-1 mentoring with a range of mentors from large tech firms who specialised in different fields relating to her interest and plans for future education. She also worked with grassroots organisations and learned about projects they run to support young people as entrepreneurs such as Founders of the Future.

Naomi says the programme empowered her to understand there are jobs in the tech industry for people like her. Before the only thing she knew about the tech industry was it had a deficit of diversity, but the programme showed her there are people within the industry actively working to change this. She finished feeling that change in the industry was possible and that by pursuing a career in tech, she too could lead change.

A product manager at Just Eat Takeaway said for them it was fulfilling to meet students from the area they grew up in and provide them with new opportunities.

Hadi Muhammad is a student at the University of Oxford. He was mentored by someone at Vodafone who he stayed in touch with over the course of the following year. He worked with his mentor to successfully apply for a work placement at Microsoft and has since gone on to study at Oxford. He continues to contribute to the Career Accelerator network as a member of our Youth Advisory Board.

Preparing diverse young people for careers in the modern economy and supporting businesses to provide employee training, volunteering and marketing opportunities is making a real difference to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It is giving young people the chance to shine and develop careers they may not have thought open to them and for employers to gain fresh perspectives and widen their talent pool.

By Mayur Gupta, CEO, Career Accelerator

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