From education to employment

Youth Employment Convention – what next?

One of the more sobering elements of the Youth Employment Convention in London last week was Will Hutton’s exhortation that we should be “very angry” and for a few uncomfortable minutes we were. We felt guilt, responsibility, failure. We felt the pain of the financial mess that is resulting in a whole generation of young adults enduring a recession the likes of which none of us have experienced before. We felt anger and we undertook to ensure that we followed up on the wise words of an invigorating two days with some tangible actions. Now it’s important that we do so and build upon the momentum of the event.

The Convention sought to listen to young people and to understand how it feels to be unemployed and cast adrift at the time of your life when you are at your most optimistic, and at your most vulnerable. We heard from young job seekers about where they think the shortfalls in the education, employment and skills systems lie and what actions they think would might address these shortcomings most effectively. A Youth Panel kicking off the event was impressive – ten young people, from diverse backgrounds, helping us understand things from their perspective – eloquently, thoughtfully and with passion. Here’s just a flavour of what they, and young people contributing throughout the event, said would assist young people to transition more successfully in to the world of work:

  • Knowledgeable careers advice – that starts earlier in one’s school life and is consistently available rather than on an adhoc, occasional basis


  • A universal careers support offer – available to everyone, face to face


  • Practical, relevant and good quality work experience opportunities


  • Long term mentoring support through important transitions


  • Lessons made relevant with functional numeracy and literacy


  • Lose the rigidity of the curriculum, “don’t teach us inside the box if you want us to think outside the box”

On day two of the Convention we put the employers under the spotlight and asked them to tell us what the essential  attributes are that they look for in young recruits. This is how they described what they are looking for:

  • Flair, imagination, innovation, entrepreneurial, confident, communicative, able to problem solve, resilient, right attitude… and more in the same vein

None of this is rocket science.  None of it seems unreasonable.  None of it is particularly surprising. So, why then do we still have a system that young people consider ill prepares them for the transition to the world of work and which employers say is yielding disappointing results.  Most notably not, in the main, producing young recruits with the attributes employers  state they need.  Why do we continue to fail both the supply and demand side in such a fundamental way?

Clearly the ‘bonfire’ of a number of supporting services has had its effect. The demise of Connexions, Education Business Partnerships, Work Experience, Aim Higher, Enterprise Education funding,  Youth Services  amongst others, will all have had an impact.  But let’s not kid ourselves that there was ever a “Golden Age” when careers  IAG  was top quality for every child and universal work experience was tailored to the interests and ambitions of every youngster.  There wasn’t.  We aren’t harking back here to something. We are looking at creating something fresh, dynamic and fit for 21st century purpose, that young people tell us they want and will respond to favourably.  Further,   employers tell us they are prepared to do what they can to support work experience and transition choices if they are supported to do so.  The trick will be ensuring that there is an appropriate infrastructure to encourage and enable this support.

So, there’s clearly consensus about the problem and the end goal and,   necessity being the mother of invention, the time seems right to turn the talk in to action. The big conundrum is how we deliver the solution.  Do we allow a thousand initiatives to bloom (and the Convention demonstrated numerous examples of the excellent activity that is going on)  or is there a  danger that many will perish and fewest  will survive in the neediest areas?

Somehow we need to get a  grip on all the programmes and activities that are being undertaken and bring them  together under common purpose as a universal offer to all 13-21s.  Could we create some kind of infrastructure to assist  the development of best practice  and the sharing of “what works”?  If so what would this look like, how could we ensure equal access and what would the desired impact be?

These are hard questions but the Convention demonstrated the will of many individuals and organisations to set about tackling them. And, in all honesty, what could be a better shared objective than doing the best by the UK’s young people and creating some positive energy from that anger Will Hutton generated.

Fran Parry is director of employment and skills at Inclusion, the not-for-profit company dedicated to tackling disadvantage and promoting social justice


Inclusion wants to move the conversation on – contact us at [email protected]

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