FE News hears from Peter Westgarth, CEO at The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, on how the charity can help FE institutions to prepare students for employment while bringing fresh opportunities to educational establishments and staff.

We all know that it is a difficult time for young people in the UK at the moment and feedback from employers certainly highlights the need for a greater emphasis on skills training for young adults.

The reality is the tough economic climate means that achieving good grades is simply no longer enough to make one young person stand out from another in the job market and faced with this reality, students are looking for other ways to grab the attention of future employers and Universities.

Although the job market is extremely competitive, unemployment rates are gradually decreasing which just proves that opportunities are there for the next generation but competition for prized University places or entry level jobs is rife.

The reality for the FE sector is that, as well as helping students to reach their academic goals, the opportunity to increase young people’s employability in challenging economic times is essential for all educational establishments. As part of their role as tutors and mentors, staff can play a key part in helping young people to develop essential life skills that will help them to become well rounded individuals and suitable employees.

Finding the formula for employability

But what skills equate to employability? According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, the attitudes and skills that make someone employable, in addition to business awareness, numeracy and literacy, are defined as:

Self-management, problem solving, team working, good communication and a positive approach to work.

To equip young people adequately with these skills, a creative teaching and mentoring method can be supported by activities outside of the classroom environment, and that’s where the DofE comes in.

Many of you will have heard about The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme and perhaps have assumed it is inappropriate for your institution but, let me assure you; the DofE is about more than climbing mountains and its programmes are more accessible than you think.

More than Mountains

The DofE is a charity which has been working with young people aged between 14 and 25 from every possible background since 1956, developing their skills for life and work. We have worked with young people from every walk of life, from young offenders in prisons to army cadets and students at independent schools, state schools, colleges and academies.

The dynamic programme of DofE activities develops young people’s self-esteem whilst building confidence in an environment of social interaction and team-working, giving the individuals experience in situations many wouldn’t have had the chance to access without the DofE.

Anyone aged between 14 and 24 can enter a programme at one of the three progressive levels which, when successfully completed lead to a Bronze, Silver or Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. There are four sections at Bronze and Silver level and five at Gold:

Volunteering: undertaking service to individuals or the community

Physical: improving in an area of sport, dance or fitness activities

Skills: developing practical and social skills and personal interests

Expedition: planning, training for and completion of an adventurous journey in the UK or abroad

At Gold level, participants must do an additional fifth Residential section, which involves staying and working away from home doing a shared activity.

Supply and Demand

Due to the level of commitment and drive required of DofE participants (the minimum time needed to complete Bronze level is six months) and the age that a young person begins their DofE journey, I am pleased to say The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is recognised both by employers and Universities as a mark of excellence.

Furthermore, independent research with DofE Gold Award holders shows that:

93% felt that including their Award on an application form would help to secure employment

85% believed doing their DofE had improved their confidence

64% believed that having an Award helped them gain their most recent job

It is for these and many other reasons that there are currently 275,000 young people participating in DofE programmes in the UK and demand is increasingly high with participation growing year on year.

However, to enable us to continue to offer more young people the DofE experience, we want to extend our network further and work with more colleges, academies and further education establishments across the UK to give more young people the chance to do their DofE and be the best that they can be.

FE and the DofE

It’s not just students that benefit from their school or college running personal development programmes such as the DofE in addition to curricular activities.  We have found that running the DofE helps to create a positive ethos and supportive relationships in educational establishments.

It strengthens the school community by encouraging students, teachers and parents to work together in different settings, developing staff as well as young people.

Through the DofE, tutors are able to form far better working relationships with their students outside of school or college which transfer directly into the classroom environment; the more that young people can relate to their mentors outside of the usual learning environment, the more productive it can be inside.

We’ve also found that young people who’ve completed an Award become better at dealing with all adults as a result of working with tutors outside the classroom, something that will come across in future job and higher education interviews.

Yes, the job market is a competitive place, but by enabling your students to experience new challenges and learn skills outside of the classroom that can be developed and used throughout their lives, the FE sector can help young people to make the transition into employment seem that bit easier. Furthermore, you’ll be giving your students the key attributes employers today are crying out for; confidence, commitment, leadership and communication skills.

Getting involved in setting up a DofE group in your organisation or area is your chance to shape the future of the UK as well as improve the effectiveness of your institution. The DofE will support you in establishing a group. If you are interested in running a DofE programme in your school, FE college, sixth form, academy or local community, visit  www.dofe.org/takepart to find your regional office and gain further information on how to get involved.

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