7 September 2016 Community

Skills: a young person's perspective

Access to skills is the number one concern for companies up and down the country – but when young people are a major part of the solution, why don’t more business leaders ask what they think? 

EY Foundation and the Chartered Management Institute has released a report, Age of Uncertainty, based on young people’s thoughts and experience of making decisions about their career, life in the workplace, and their ambitions for the future.

It highlights a lack of confidence among those aged 16-21 in finding a high quality job locally due to a lack of awareness of opportunities and worries over experience.

Based on their views, the report outlines four recommendations to close the gap between education and work: introducing a school-to-work syllabus into the national curriculum from the age of 11; strengthening and championing all routes into work, including apprenticeships and entrepreneurship; developing key management and leadership skills from a younger age; and creating an employer-backed school-to-work national youth panel.

Business Voice spoke to the chairman of EY Foundation’s Youth Panel, Chris Achiampong, to put the report in context.

Q. Businesses are constantly talking about finding the skills they need – or the lack of them – but from a young person’s perspective, do you think firms are doing enough, or enough of the right things, to ease those concerns?

A. I do think that they are doing something, but it’s not enough. There’s a disconnection between young people, schools and the world of work. There needs to be more collaboration to change that.

The EY Foundation report recommends introducing a school-to-work syllabus to the national curriculum and this is something I feel strongly about. For me, careers guidance wasn’t really very effective and you just think you’re going to school for the sake of it. There’s no sense of where it takes you or the skills you’re gaining from it. And when I did work experience, it wasn’t beneficial at all. I don’t feel like I gained the skills from that to apply for a job.

Young people want to work. They also want to train and get the work experience that will improve their confidence – and statistics suggest it improves their teamwork and communication skills by 63 per cent and 51 per cent respectively. 

Both work experience and learning more practical, relevant skills for applying for jobs should definitely be part of the curriculum.

Q. You’ve said work experience didn’t help you with the transition into work but what was your own understanding of the world of work before you left school?

A. I’m from Newham, where there are a lot of low socio-economic households. My parents were originally from Ghana and they didn’t have degrees. My mum was a single parent. I originally started playing football, professionally for Arsenal, until I suffered a bad injury. But luckily I had had to keep up with my academics.

Even still, I had no sense of the whole business world. My first experience of the City was when I was going to one of the EY Foundation’s programmes – it was the first time I had actually stepped onto London Bridge. And that’s the same for many of my peers. It’s a timeless story.

The EY Foundation’s three-week Smart Futures programme gave me a chance to enhance my skills, through different challenges and developing presentation skills – and I had one week where I was actually in a business, so I was working with real people. The managers were fantastic – it was my first proper experience of having a mentor and I still speak to them now.

It’s that experience that led me to broaden my horizons – and I successfully applied to join EY’s school leavers programme afterwards. But if it wasn’t for that experience, I genuinely don’t know where I’d be. I didn’t have a privileged background to force another way in, and I didn’t have the kind of parents that could back me up where school had failed.

Q. So how would you summarise the challenge of getting a job for any young person today?

A. When you look at the unemployment rate, and you see the number of organisations desperate to employ young people, it’s frustrating that they are getting it slightly wrong. They argue that young people haven’t got the skills or the experience – but young people need a proper job to get the experience. How are they supposed to get their foot in the door?

I think more employers are realising that they see a return on investment if they train them. But take the example of my brother – on graduating from university he couldn’t get a job in management finance, so he worked at Marks & Spencer to save up the £3,000 he needed to fund an internship out in China. Many other young people would just settle for any job they can find – and that undermines their ambition and their potential.

Q. What can businesses do better to help in schools?

A. A lot of it is down to more structured collaboration with schools – whether it’s helping to improve the careers framework; different employers speaking about the opportunities in their sectors or opening their doors to kids of less privileged backgrounds to visit; or providing mentoring and offering practical skills sessions – from presentation skills to networking.

It’s disappointing that a lot of this hasn’t been tapped into more already – but, then again, it presents an opportunity as well.

Q. And how else would you challenge businesses to help young people get ahead?

A. I think businesses can listen to young people more – and really hear what they have to say about what they want, what they can do, and what support they need, rather than relying on assumptions. This is where EY Foundation’s recommendation of a national school-to-work youth panel comes in – led by young people and backed by employers, to help shape the necessary initiatives and reforms.

Employers should also be looking at a more diverse a pool of young people and not just your standard graduates. I find it really encouraging that EY has removed its UCAS points criteria for applicants, and you don’t have to have a 2:1 from university anymore – and we’re starting to hear more and more about fostering alternative routes into employment. That’s important.

Not everyone wants to go to university in this economic climate – it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a job or the job that you desire – so employers need to look elsewhere too.  

And I think employers should see this as a socially responsible thing to do. It means they are investing in the community, in their employees, and making a real difference.

Read the full report to find out more about the recommendations and how your business can get involved.