The sector pledges further support to the UK’s greatest asset

7 December 2016

There were numerous highlights to the Youth Employment Convention. 

Our younger delegates took to the youth panels like ducks to water and I breathed a hefty sigh of relief as the breakfast debate went to plan, rammed full of people, enthusiasm, stats – “44% of young people say their confidence was knocked by gruelling job application processes” and facts – “1.2m weeks of work experience per year would be needed to provide all young people with 2 weeks work experience. It’s a major challenge” said Mark Dawe of AELP.  

The Skills and Apprenticeship Minister, Robert Halfon, was warmly received and kicked off the proceedings by throwing away his prepared speech and getting immediately to the point, telling us that “3 million quality apprenticeships is not enough, I want 3m QUALITY apprenticeships” and that the reforms are intended to create opportunities for everyone with an emphasis on attracting apprentices from difficult backgrounds and working out how to get single parents and the disabled in to apprenticeships.

We were delighted that Emily Hicks, a Festival of Learning award winner, gave the youth welcome to the event and spoke of her own journey to education and work demonstrating the need for personalised support, hard work and commitment.  Emily reminded us that there are other routes to university other than the purely academic one. “Emily is one inspiring person” said one of our youth delegates. 

The Convention was intended to challenge assumptions and we think we delivered. 

  • “There’s no shortage of potential jobs” Kate Shoesmith of REC reminded us  with shortages in engineering, health and social care, logistics and IT and “61% of recruiters struggling to find chefs for Christmas!” 
  • Carole Easton of the Young Womens Trust reminded us that “more young people think it likely we will land on Mars in the next 40 years than that they will clear their debt.”
  • Jack Parsons, the young and dynamic CEO of Yourfeed, was thoroughly upbeat and told his audience that there’s loads of opportunities out there for young people, they have to grasp them. He advocated role models and mentors saying “find someone you like and ask them to be your mentor and remember they don’t need to be older than you!”
  • Ruth Gilbert CE of Career Colleges reminded us that we must keep on training through our working lives – 50 year careers will be project based with transferable skills the key not GCSEs, and that parental influence is important, yet how can they advise if they know so little about the modern labour market?  
  • David Tran from PWC talked about the features that made for high performing countries which included the right mix of vocational education, engaging employers in education as early as possible and providing real social inclusion by providing opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

The Youth Panels kept up the challenge throughout the day raising highly relevant issues such as under employment, job search support, mental health, support for “hidden disabilities” in work, gender stereotyping on apprenticeships and workplace diversity amongst many, many others.

The pace was non-stop with plenaries interspersed with a diverse set of breakout sessions all run by experts in their fields including a masterclass on co-creation that produced a best practice guide to co-creation!

Lunch and networking was followed by a stirring response from Peter Kyle MP to the challenge of social mobility. “There’s nothing inevitable about social mobility. If you are talent rich but asset poor the chances remain that you won’t succeed.” Doors to opportunity have to be forced open he said and high quality, multiple access education routes created. Most people don’t get the second chance he had, so we have to get it right first time.

The panels continued to deliver terrific insight:

  • Apprenticeships are not open to everyone Debbie Weekes-Bernard of JRF reminded us – the disabled, women and BME remain disadvantaged. 
  • Mike Thompson of Barclays said there are still too few pathways to progress and more options within apprenticeships are needed. 
  • Marcus Mason of BCC was concerned that the emphasis with apprenticeships remains the number of starters but it’s the completers and the quality of their experience that’s important. 
  • David Hughes of the Association of Colleges wants  every young person enabled to make informed choices and given the opportunity to experiment in education. 
  • Stunning levels of sexism in careers advice were highlighted by Professor Louise Archer with half of co-ed schools having no female A-level physics students. Single sex schools are propping up the statistics on girls in STEM.

A ‘Dragons Den’ challenge energised us with Liverpool, Manchester, Suffolk and the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership regions presenting their blue prints for youth policy in their areas to a group of young Dragons. Key drivers for success were personalised programmes, co-design, breaking down silos and creating “one stop support”, listening to young people and providing opportunities for them.  The Dragons were particularly keen to understand the success rates for each partnership area and how impact was measured.

The highlight of the event for me was The Pledge written by the Learning and Work Institute and young people from Talent Match and committing L&W to put young people at the centre of its activity, and creating a real and tangible legacy from the event.  It’s worth transcribing in full:

  • No decision about me without me.  We will advocate for young people to be involved in the design of services aimed at them and in the support, education and services they receive directly.
  • Work experience. We will argue for high quality work experience at all key points in education and elsewhere.
  • Apprenticeships.  We want to see world class Apprenticeships that are flexible and accessible to all young people that would benefit from them.
  • Clear transitions. We will work to ensure that young people get seamless, holistic support through transitions between education and employment, including through implementation of the Skills Plan
  • Our Work.  Our work and recommendations will be informed by the views of young people, and our events will provide a voice for young people.

The day was closed by Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor of London sharing the Mayor’s commitment to grow and support London’s home grown talent.

Thank you to sterling support from Talent Match and some great commitment from their local groups we had young people attending from as far away as Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Manchester and the Midlands as well as our good friends from London Youth. Without exception the young people were engaging and engaged, arguing and challenging in the most articulate way.  For the first time in four years of delivering the conference I felt we had reached a tipping point and could truly claim to be a voice for young people.

You can read articles written by many of the speakers at the event in the latest edition of the Skills, Employment and Health Journal.   

Fran Parry – MD, Bright Sparks