Mark De Backer

In the face of potentially record high youth unemployment and a bleak economic outlook, the Chancellor’s investment in skills, apprenticeships and careers advice is undoubtedly a welcome move. At Education Development Trust, we share the conviction that careers advice is vital to ensuring that young people and adults have meaningful career management skills and awareness, to support both their futures and the economy.

Education Development Trust has been a leading careers service provider in the UK for over 20 years, working with both national and local funders to deliver high quality careers support to young people and adults. We are also the delivery partner for the Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge programme (ASK) across the London region. The programme works to help educators, employers and students to navigate the world of apprenticeships and transform the way they are viewed.

The Chancellor’s announcement has the potential to create lasting and meaningful change, not only in tackling economic recovery but for millions of young people across the UK who face a tough labour market. We await further details on the specifics of the support. Meanwhile, Mark De Backer from Education Development Trust has shared his five key takeaways on what the Government needs to take into consideration to make the ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ ambition a success.

  1. Investment and support for apprenticeships must go hand-in-hand with work to fight existing stigma. We know that negative press, whether real or perceived, turns young people and their families away from apprenticeships. The financial support for apprenticeships and traineeships may be positive incentives for businesses, but the Government needs to accompany this with the continuation of the promotion of apprenticeships via the Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge contract which reaches young people and their parents via schools.
  1. Any pathway including apprenticeships is only as good as the pathways into and out of it. The Government’s commitment to high quality traineeships and incentives for new apprentices is a step in the right direction. However, more could be done in widening participation of apprenticeships particularly around opportunities for SEND students. We also await further details on how the Government will support apprentices already in the system who face redundancy as a result of COVID-19. Employer engagement is critical to ensure the success of the new scheme; similar schemes in the past have not done as well as intended due to low pick up or opportunities being largely limited to low-paid roles. The ‘Kickstart’ programme needs to take these issues into account and not operate in silo. A coordinated approach which integrates existing work around unemployment and NEETs will maximise benefits.
  1. High-quality careers advice can be life changing but we need to remember that the pathways to good careers start at schools. The Government needs to consider how it will support school-based careers advice, ensuring that current year 10 and 12 students have confidence about their options for the future and critically, stay engaged in a changing world. It is clear that the ramifications of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come. Whilst it is right that the immediate focus should be on protecting current jobs, the Government needs to consider how it will ensure that future jobs are protected too and that young people have the skills and knowledge they need to operate in an increasingly competitive labour market as well as understand the complexity of different options available to them. In order to achieve this, there needs to be a more joined up approach to mobilise a national response to providing information, advice and guidance to young people with a multitude of provision, stakeholders and providers operating in the sector. The UK’s economic recovery presents an opportunity to consider a more national approach to careers, following the example of the other home nations such as Scotland and Wales. Through reviewing and building a longer-term Careers Strategy, the Government can ensure that it is not just being responsive to the current climate but laying the pathways for future jobs. This should ideally start at primary school and aim to embed careers in the curriculum throughout schooling.
  1. Apprenticeship provision should be linked to the jobs the country and different regions need for future prosperity. Greater use of labour market data will help to ensure that the Government concentrates opportunities in areas and in industries that need them. This will also ensure that apprenticeships have a meaningful purpose to filling skills gaps for employers and provide individuals with career pathways. This will encourage take up from both sides. We know that sectors such as hospitality and retail have been hit hard as a result of the pandemic, targeted apprenticeship provision in these sectors could help them bounce back. Similarly, to avoid geographical disparities post-COVID-19, the Government should ensure that apprenticeships are available in more rural areas of the country, rather than concentrated in big cities. This is also in line with the Government’s ambition to ‘level up’ the country and would help to ensure that economic recovery is even-handed regionally and amongst sectors.
  1. The Government should refresh and reinforce the public sector apprenticeship target introduced in 2017. A small increase in this target to 2.5% and highlighting public sector bodies who best meet this target would demonstrate the Government’s ongoing commitment to its statutory target of 3,000,000 apprenticeships by 2020. A new national target for 2022 would demonstrate that apprenticeships remain a priority.

During this recovery period, there is ample opportunity to shape the future of skills and apprenticeships. Rarely are we given the chance to rewire substantively our economy and daily lives. To make any meaningful change successfully, the Government will need to be both innovative yet meticulous in its approach.

Mark De Backer, IAG Commercial Manager, Inspiring Careers Team, Education Development Trust

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