From education to employment

UK’s Skills Gap & Mismatch Will Continue To Grow Without Action: I Am #InspiringTheFuture

Nick Chambers, CEO, Education and Employers



Children as young as seven risk ruling out future job options because of their gender, race and background, OECD’s Director of Education and Skills will tell major employers, political and education leaders today (15 Oct).  

OECD’s Andreas Schleicher will argue that the stubborn skills gaps in the UK labour market are rooted in ingrained assumptions about the world of work while children are at primary school.

Speaking tonight, he will welcome plans to build up a 100,000-strong national network of volunteers from the world of work giving millions of children and young people the opportunity to meet role models drawn from every industry, profession and sector.

The I Am #InspiringTheFuture campaign, run by the charity Education and Employers and its partners asks employers to open up their workforces to support the drive. 

The long-term aim is to create 10 million face-to-face interactions between the pupils and volunteers – all potential “light bulb” moments to broaden their horizons and widen their aspirations. 

Speaking tonight to 400 guests at a launch in The City, Mr Schleicher will say: 

“Potential talent is being wasted because children as young as seven already assume their gender, ethnicity or social background restricts their job or life choices – including stereotypes about science and engineering careers being better suited to men.

“Primary pupils need “light bulb moments” about their future from the time they start school – otherwise their horizons risk being limited to what their parents or carers do; what their teachers advise; or what they see on TV, films or social media.

“Career related learning starts too late in the UK school system – and early intervention is needed to unpick embedded beliefs and assumptions which risk restricting options later.

“The mismatch between career aspirations and projected skills needs will grow without greater employer engagement in schools, particularly from rapidly emerging industries using AI and in growth areas like cybersecurity, biotech and renewables. 

“Primary pupils need access to inspiring role models from a full range of industries, professions and sectors, if society and the economy is to harness the full potential of the next generation – and he will repeat the philosophy of US children rights activist Marion Wright Edelman that “you can’t be, what you can’t see”.


The I Am #InspiringTheFuture campaign will double the number of professionals signed up with Education and Employers’ existing volunteers from the world of work network.

The charity links teachers directly to the volunteers via a free, online ‘matchmaking’ service – so they can be invited into classrooms to share their life stories in special assemblies, talks, speed networking and workshops. 

The existing Inspiring the Future service was launched in 2012. It has already signed-up 55,000 volunteers, from first-job apprentices to CEOs, app designers to zoologists with the network linked up to 80% of secondary schools and 20% of primary schools in England.

We believe that every young person in our country, wherever they live, whatever their parents/carers’ circumstances, and whatever school they go to, should have the opportunity to hear first-hand about jobs and the world of work. 

A young person’s background should not determine their chances of getting these opportunities.

We want our young people to become excited by learning and by their potential, to see the diversity of what is possible and to make informed decisions about their future.

We are therefore launching a national campaign called “I am #InspiringTheFuture” creating 10 million interactions between young people and volunteers from the world of work – starting in primary 

We need 100,000 people to volunteer from different and diverse backgrounds and all sectors – architects to zoologists and all levels – apprentices to CEOs.

The bigger network will accelerate the expansion of Primary Futures, the tailored programme for seven to 11-year-olds developed with school leaders’ union NAHT. 

It means millions more primary-age children can benefit from whatever background; whatever jobs their parents or guardians do; and wherever their school is located.

The programme aims long-term to give every primary pupil the opportunity to hear first-hand about jobs and the world of work.

The I Am #InspiringTheFuture campaign will sign-up professionals across the country, including specifically targeting:

  • regions, towns and communities in England experiencing significant economic, social and environmental disadvantage.
  • NHS providers as the biggest overall employer in England to support long-term recruitment into the health sector.
  • independent schools’ alumni and parental networks
  • rapidly growing industries including cybersecurity, biotech, renewables, virtual reality and AI.

The expansion will equip schools better to meet tougher Ofsted criteria for careers education and personal development, which came into force from September 2019. 


OECD and Education and Employers published an updated report today: Envisioning the Future of Education and Jobs: Trends, Data and Drawings.

The report looks at the challenges and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and other global trends:

  • climate change;
  • ageing societies;
  • population shifts;
  • digitalisation; and
  • growing middle class

And it highlights previous joint-research that:

  • only 1% of primary age pupils hear about jobs from volunteers from the world of work visiting their schools;
  • gender stereotyping exists from the age of seven;
  • over one-third of 15 to 16 year olds’ career interests lie in just 10 occupations; and
  • there are minimal changes between job ambitions at seven and 17 years old; 

It underlines findings from Education and Employers’ Drawing the Future report that the charity launched during the World Economic Forum in Davos last year. 

The ground-breaking report done in partnership with OECD Education and Skills, TES Global, the NAHT and the UCL Institute of Education asked 20,000 primary school children to draw the job they wanted to do when they grow up – with 36% basing their careers aspirations on someone they know and 45% basing it on TV, film and social media.

Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education & Skills, OECD said: 

“As Marion Wright Edelman says “you can’t be, what you can’t see”. We’re not saying seven-year-olds have to choose their careers now – but we must fight to keep their horizons open. We cannot afford to waste talent from children as young as seven ruling out options if they are convinced their choices are limited by their gender, ethnicity or class. It’s a question of social justice and common sense to tackle ingrained assumptions as early as possible or they will be very tough to unpick later on.”

“We need major employers, including government itself, to open up their workforces to primary schools. We can’t afford the mismatch between career aspirations and the reality of the job market so we need to be bolder in getting inspiring professionals into classrooms as early as possible.”

Inspiring the Future is a simple solution that is easy to implement in primaries. We all had light bulb moments at school when we’ve met someone who inspires us to think big about our potential, our future, our goals. We believe every single young person has an equal right to that same light bulb moment – wherever they live, whatever their parents do, and whatever school they go to.”

“It will tackle the imbalance in accessing role models. There is no silver bullet in boosting social mobility – but understanding the world beyond the classroom and home must be universal. It can’t be rationed to certain young people and not others.”

“The best teachers enable children to discover their passions, develop their dreams and find their place in society. Pupils will invest in their education if link what they are studying in schools to the real world and the opportunities out there.”

Nick Chambers, CEO, Education and Employers said: 

“Too often young people’s ambitions are narrowed by an innate sense of what people from their background should aspire to – and what’s out of reach. Inspiring the Future can’t end ingrained social, race or gender barriers but we can give schools the tools to start dismantling them. We must go the extra mile in helping teachers and parents show young people what’s possible.”

“We’re in the midst of radical changes in our economy. Jobs which exist at the start of their working lives, will not exist by the end. The days of simply following your parents or carers’ footsteps have gone forever.”

“No one wants their own children and grandchildren shut out of jobs of the future – so there is a greater responsibility on employers and bosses to step up. The onus can’t simply be put on teachers to equip young people to navigate this world. Employers must help them keep pace with the reality of the labour market.”

Inspiring the Future gives employers the chance to play their role. We’re proud to work with businesses and organisations, big and small right across the UK – and our campaign will be reaching out to even more to join our work”.  

Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: 

“The importance of exposure to the world of work at primary age cannot be overstated. The earlier children’s aspirations are raised and broadened, the better.”

“We want to create more of these ‘lightbulb moments’ for young people. That’s why we support Primary Futures – a programme that gets volunteers into primary schools to talk about their jobs.”

“Primary Futures helps children to understand the relevance of subjects they are studying, and to connect their education directly to their futures, resulting in a positive impact on attainment throughout school.”

“After five years, we’ve had some amazing results, but we really want to see a universal entitlement to this kind of work, otherwise too many children will still find themselves at a disadvantage.”

Tam, aged 9 years, Welton Primary School, Somerset said:

“The best part of Primary Futures was meeting volunteers, we can go into different rooms and meet other people to learn about their jobs! Meeting them has given me courage to know that I can make lots of things. I have also found out about lots more jobs. It gave me ideas about what I should do next.”

Education and Employers Chair of Trustees David Cruickshank said:

Inspiring the Future connects young people to the world of work every stage of people’s education. We want our young people to become excited by learning and by their potential, to see the diversity of what is possible and to make informed decisions about their future.

“That’s why we want to accelerate and expand Inspiring the Future into a national movement. We want to give every state-school teacher access to a national pool of volunteers – from apprentices to CEOs from app designers to zoologists, from every sector of the economy, in every region, city and town and every social background.

“We’ve achieved so much in the 10 years since we were founded thanks to thousands of teachers, our volunteers, funders and partners. But there is much more to do. Too many pupils in the UK have too few chances to learn first-hand about the world of work and the route getting there.”


In times of uncertainty and change, the need to inspire our next generation is more important than ever

We know that one of the best ways of inspiring young people about their future is to give them the chance to meet people from the world of work. Our research proves that such encounters help to broaden young people’s horizons, increase their motivation to learn, and challenge gender stereotyping.

Meeting a wide range of volunteers from the world of work improves academic performance and helps ensure the next generation is well informed about the wealth of current jobs and career routes open to them. These meaningful encounters help reduce the mismatch between young people’s career aspirations and the reality of the labour market.

They reduce the likelihood of young people becoming NEET (not in employment, education, or training), and can increase young people’s earnings in adult life.

Every young person in our country, wherever they live, whatever their parents/carers circumstances, and whatever school they go to, should have the opportunity to hear first-hand about jobs and the world of work. A young person’s background should not determine their chances of getting these opportunities. We want our young people to become excited by learning and by their potential, to see the diversity of what is possible and to make informed decisions about their future.

And our approach in tackling inequalities in opportunities has achieved widespread consensus – it’s something people can unite around.

Through our Inspiring the Future and its Primary Futures programme, we help teachers connect children and young people with a wide range of volunteers from the world of work, from different social, economic and ethnic backgrounds. People working in different sectors and at different levels, from app designers to zoologists, apprentices to CEOs. People who have taken a variety of career routes, including starting their own business, doing an apprenticeship or going to college or university. It’s a very simple idea with huge and far-reaching impact.

We would like to thank teachers, schools, partners, donors, employers, volunteers and government who have supported our mission since launching on 15 October 2009. Working together we have changed young lives through meaningful encounters with the world of work and helped give our young people the best start in life. Our research consistently shows the importance of employer engagement in schools and the importance of starting at primary-age.

That is why we are launching a new national campaign to deliver 10 million meaningful encounters between children and young people and the world of work – starting in primary.

Working together we can achieve this.

About Education and EmployersA UK based charity launched on the 15th October 2009 which aims to “provide young people with the inspiration, motivation, knowledge, skills and opportunities they need to help them achieve their potential”. 

The charity runs Inspiring the Future which uses innovative online match-making technology to connects schools and colleges with thousands of volunteers working in different sectors – for free. These volunteers, from a huge range of jobs – from app designers to zoologists, and at all levels – from apprentices to CEOs, have signed up to share their knowledge, experience and enthusiasm about their jobs with young people. Meeting volunteers helps to broaden career aspirations, raising attainment and tackle gender and other stereotypes. People can volunteer from an hour a year in a local primary (Primary Futures) or secondary school to chat informally about their job and career route, take part in career speed networking session, give young people careers insights, mock interviews or feedback on CVs. There is also the opportunity to link up with schools for workplace visits, job shadowing, mentoring or to become a school governor or trustee.

Education and Employers also undertakes research into the effectiveness of employer engagement in education and works with the leading national bodies representing education leaders, business and government.   

OECD Education and Skills: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. It provides a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems. The organisation works with governments to understand what drives economic, social and environmental change.

The OECD Directorate for Education and Skills has three main objectives: assist OECD and partner economies in planning and managing their education systems so that their citizens can develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values they need throughout life; ensure that learners understand their own learning needs and have the opportunity and means to choose paths that help them develop; and ensure that educators have the knowledge and skills to improve their practices and have a positive impact on learning.

Complementing the I Am Inspiring the Future campaign, the OECD’s “I am the Future of Work campaign aims to contribute to a positive future of work. Involving workers, students, job seekers, employers, it gathers stories, insights and experiences about the way the world of work is changing, and the risks and opportunities it raises along the way.

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