On the jobs

Ev­ery stu­dent should be given a tran­si­tion year in which to carry out vol­un­tary work, learn new skills and ex­plore dif­fer­ent ca­reers, writes So­phie Liv­ing­stone

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - CONTENTS -

Ca­reer choices are cru­cial, so why do we have to make them so early?

MANY STU­DENTS will re­ceive GCSE and A-level re­sults this month, with most now think­ing through their next steps. It can be a daunt­ing time: how many of us knew ex­actly what we wanted to do for a ca­reer at the age of 16, 18 or even 21?

And yet, the sys­tem as­sumes that young peo­ple will know ex­actly what their first ca­reer move should be. Those at univer­sity at least have some time to work this out; to ma­ture, join so­ci­eties and cre­ate net­works.

But, of course, it’s not un­com­mon for young peo­ple to fin­ish higher ed­u­ca­tion un­sure of what their im­me­di­ate next steps will be. Un­less they’re com­plet­ing a vo­ca­tional de­gree – medicine or law, for ex­am­ple – the chances are that they have mul­ti­ple ca­reer path­ways avail­able to them. How can young peo­ple be ex­pected to make such mon­u­men­tal de­ci­sions with so lit­tle life ex­pe­ri­ence?

This point is not lost on young peo­ple them­selves. The Prince’s Trust Mac­quarie Youth In­dex 2017 says that 36 per cent of 16- to 25-year-olds do not feel in con­trol of their job prospects, with that pro­por­tion jump­ing to 50 per cent for young Neets (those not in em­ploy­ment, ed­u­ca­tion or train­ing).

We also know from a re­cent So­cial Mo­bil­ity Com­mis­sion re­port that the so­cial and eco­nomic di­vi­sions in our so­ci­ety are widen­ing, bur­den­ing fu­ture gen­er­a­tions with bro­ken com­mu­ni­ties and low eco­nomic pros­per­ity, po­ten­tially mak­ing it even harder to get into the right ca­reer.

The gov­ern­ment has at least re­alised that one tem­plate doesn’t fit all when it comes to ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reer path­ways, and has pledged its com­mit­ment to ap­pren­tice­ships and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly fol­low­ing the Sains­bury re­view. How­ever, this sug­gests that young peo­ple need to make de­ci­sions at an even ear­lier age around which job or sec­tor they want to be trained for, po­ten­tially with­out much knowl­edge of their strengths or the long-term im­pact of their ca­reer choice.

This ap­proach might be why – ac­cord­ing to re­search by the Ox­ford Open Learn­ing Trust – al­most half of 25- to 34-year-olds who have un­der­taken ap­pren­tice­ships have al­ready changed ca­reers.

And to in­crease the con­fu­sion, re­search by the In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­icy Re­search has found that many ap­pren­tices al­ready have qual­i­fi­ca­tions at the level of their ap­pren­tice­ship. So it seems clear to me that young peo­ple need more op­por­tu­ni­ties to un­der­stand and test out their own strengths, skills and as­sets be­fore they can make more in­formed choices.

Get stu­dents work-ready

The gov­ern­ment is plan­ning to cre­ate a tran­si­tion year, which was first pro­posed in the Post-16 Skills Plan. The pur­pose of this year will be to de­velop achiev­able ca­reer plans and skills, in­clud­ing lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy, for those lack­ing them. For many, in the gov­ern­ment’s own words, this will be “a catch-up year”. But such a tran­si­tion year aimed at those that the exam cul­ture has la­belled as fail­ures won’t just be in­ad­e­quate, it will po­ten­tially be even more dam­ag­ing than the cur­rent aca­demic fo­cus. Young peo­ple don’t need to be stig­ma­tised fur­ther if for­mal ed­u­ca­tion has failed them.

Top grad­u­ate re­cruiters, such as Ernst and Young and PWC, are re­al­is­ing this, and the gov­ern­ment should take note. Ernst and Young, which has over 15 ap­pli­cants per place, found that, af­ter scrap­ping its exam grades re­quire­ments, nearly a fifth of its 2016 grad­u­ate in­take wouldn’t have even been el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply un­der the old sys­tem.

Busi­nesses have also been say­ing for years that young peo­ple aren’t ad­e­quately pre­pared

for the work­place, re­gard­less of their exam re­sults, with the CBI re­port­ing in its last work sur­vey that nearly half of busi­nesses were not sat­is­fied with the re­silience and self-man­age­ment of young peo­ple. The Bri­tish Cham­bers of Com­merce Work­force Sur­vey showed that three-quar­ters of firms be­lieved that a lack of work ex­pe­ri­ence was the rea­son why young peo­ple were un­pre­pared for work.

There is a real op­por­tu­nity for the gov­ern­ment to be bold here. Why not cre­ate a tran­si­tion year for all young peo­ple; a year in which they can have di­verse ex­pe­ri­ences out­side of their com­fort zone, de­velop their skills and ex­plore ca­reer path­ways pre­vi­ously not en­coun­tered through for­mal ed­u­ca­tion? A year that will al­low them to not only build up their skills and im­prove their employability, but also make real im­prove­ments to their com­mu­ni­ties and coun­try.

Other coun­tries have taken such steps, with great suc­cess. The US, France and Ger­many have strongly es­tab­lished full-time vol­un­tary na­tional com­mu­nity ser­vice pro­grammes, al­low­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of young peo­ple to give mil­lions of vol­un­teer hours ev­ery year to serve their coun­try. Ameri­corps in the US al­lows 80,000 young peo­ple to take part in full-time vol­un­teer­ing each year, and Demos’ Ser­vice Na­tion 2020 re­port said that those who par­tic­i­pated were 27 per cent more likely to find a job than those who hadn’t taken part.

The tra­di­tional gap year in which UK stu­dents spend time on short-term vol­un­teer­ing projects abroad, fol­lowed by an ex­ten­sive pe­riod trav­el­ling, is of­ten seen in a neg­a­tive light, only avail­able to those with par­ents who will fund their trav­els. But there is an op­por­tu­nity here to trans­form the con­cept into a pos­i­tive must-do tran­si­tional ex­pe­ri­ence for all young peo­ple that en­ables them to build up real-world ex­pe­ri­ence and make a dif­fer­ence.

There has never been a bet­ter time to prop­erly ex­plore this. The Depart­ment for Dig­i­tal, Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the le­gal and reg­u­la­tory bar­ri­ers to full-time so­cial ac­tion and vol­un­teer­ing in the UK, and is due to present its rec­om­men­da­tions in De­cem­ber. I hope gov­ern­ment sup­port for a so­cial ac­tion­fo­cused “tran­si­tion year” will come out of this.

This would open up op­por­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple, trans­form the way they move into em­ploy­ment and im­prove the world around them – for the ben­e­fit of them­selves, and all of us. So­phie Liv­ing­stone is chief ex­ec­u­tive of City Year UK

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