The government should extend the Kickstart Scheme application deadline by six months until June 2022, CBI President Lord Bilimoria has said. The call came as part of a speech to the Association of School and College Leaders on the power - and importance - of education for all, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
Full transcript below.
It’s an honour to speak at this conference today. You are the UK’s finest school and college leaders. Management teams. Strategists. Teachers. Shaping the future of education in this country.
And there is perhaps no greater task in life than yours.
Having been born and brought up in India, and seeing the thirst for learning there, I know, first-hand, just how powerful a tool education can be to transform lives.
And I can tell you story after story of children who started from nowhere, those the world used to call ‘untouchable’ – the Dalits – who, through the power of education, went on to become some of the greatest minds the world has ever known.
Like Kocheril Narayanan – born into a Dalit family, in the backwaters of Kerala. He grew up in a small, thatched hut – and walked 15 kilometres to school every day. Education changed his life.
Narayanan went on to study at the London School of Economics, becoming head of the Foreign Service and is today remembered as the first Dalit President of India. Who I have had the pleasure of meeting.
It’s the power of a system of learning – schools, colleges, universities – on a massive scale.
But it can also be the power of just one teacher.
I remember the story of another boy, born in Rameswaram – on a small island, from a very poor family. He went to a local primary school. Where one teacher drew a picture of a bird. And the boy, at 11 years old, was mesmerised by the concept of flight.
He went on to become President Abdul Kalam – a space scientist, and a rocket scientist – who headed India's space programme and the most popular president of India ever.
That’s the power of learning. One teacher can transform your life.
Innovation during Covid
But that doesn’t mean our education system is without its challenges. And never more so than the past year.
Covid-19 has been the biggest public health crisis in a century. It has left no part of our society untouched – with schools and colleges on the frontline. And we’ve had to adapt to technology at a speed and scale never seen before. An innovation earthquake.
And at the height of the pandemic – Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft said that two years’ worth of digital transformation happened in just two months.
We saw kitchen tables become classrooms, overnight.
Necessity has been the mother of invention.
And you – our school and college leaders, in every corner of the country have gone above and beyond to teach and train in difficult circumstances.
Not only looking after your students. But offering your skills, space, and expertise – in service of the nation. Like Sheffield College, using their campus for testing and vaccination points. Showing your extraordinary power to rise to a challenge.
The digital divide
But the pandemic has affected different people in different ways. It has revealed a huge digital divide across the country. And we know many school children, learning remotely have had vastly unequal access to technology.
At one extreme – you've got a child sitting in their own room, on their own laptop, with superfast Wi-Fi, not missing a single lesson.
And at the other – you have a family with little to no space of their own, and children with no phone, no broadband – let alone a tablet or laptop.
It’s a gap in digital access, and digital literacy.
And we know over 11 million people in the UK lack essential digital skills.
To help, businesses are trying to do their bit. Like Drax Group, who provided 700 laptops for local schools – to keep students connected during lockdown. Or BT – offering free, unlimited data to families with no internet access.
But it’s also a policy issue.
With the government, previously, committing to 100% broadband coverage – by 2024/25 now going backwards. With the last Spending Review, in November – saying we're only going to aim for 85%.
Why row back?
This pandemic has shown us – more than ever – that we need the full 100% as soon as possible.
But there’s also another side to this story.
As we strive to support not only those currently in education, but those young people about to leave – and enter the world of work for the first time.
We know graduates and school leavers will be among the hardest hit by this crisis. Now facing a deep recession, and the toughest jobs market in a generation.
In fact the latest ONS data shows that – since the start of the pandemic more 16 to 24-year-olds have dropped out of the workforce than any other age group.
And, at the end of 2020, nearly 1 in 8 recent graduates were still unemployed. Many facing loneliness, stress, financial precarity. With one survey finding that 69% of young people feel like their life is ‘on hold’. At the very moment they should feel anything is possible.
And this is a real problem for business.
For those who don’t know, we at the CBI represent 190,000 businesses, employing 7 million people – about a third of the private sector workforce. Our role in society, right now, is to help the UK forge the strongest possible recovery from this crisis.
We want to see a scale of investment and economic vision that will ensure every young person leaving education in the next few years can have a long, fulfilling career.
Supporting those who may have missed out, in the past 12 months. And risk falling behind – not only in their knowledge but those essential, soft skills employers look for: teamwork, communication, confidence.
My worry is that businesses have heard about ‘lost learning’ on the news but don’t know what it means for them – or how they can help.
So how can we fill the gap in support for these young people? Are they simply destined to miss out?
For business, there must be one, resounding answer: we will not – cannot – fail this generation.
Every school leaver, every graduate, every student must be supported and championed with more energy and opportunities than ever.
So at the CBI – we’ll be working with our members, with Ofqual, with the Department for Education, and with the Department for Work & Pensions …having that vital conversation – and looking at how firms can help.
How employers can help
It may be that businesses will need to adjust their recruitment, onboarding, or training processes.
But – even before Covid – I think one of the big, big challenges for business was not just thinking about education for the sake of knowledge alone. But seeing education as a way to change people’s lives.
Whether it's at school, further education, a university – that's what you're doing. Not just passing on knowledge. But making sure young people are prepared to face life, whatever they do.
And employers can help.
The evidence shows that if a young person has 4 interactions with business at school, they are 5 times less likely to be unemployed as adults.
So, at the CBI – as we emerge from this pandemic, we will be looking for opportunities to bring business and education closer together, to deliver for young people like never before.
Helping schools connect with businesses, and vice versa.
It can be as simple as:
- Offering work experience.
- Supporting employees to become a school governor.
- Running mock interviews.
- Mentoring a school leader or a young person.
- Or organising a school visit to your site.
Even talking to you now, I can remember – as an eleven-year-old, at school in India – going on factory visits. I can picture going to a pencil factory. I can picture that factory floor. And looking back, I know the impact it had on me – getting me where I am today.
Today I am a proud manufacturer of Cobra Beer – we have been awarded 121 gold medals (I’m sorry to boast).
And manufacturing makes up about 10% of our GDP – we have some of the finest advanced manufacturing in the world.
I’m proud to also chair the Manufacturing Commission.
And from school and college leaders, we hear, more and more, that you want to work with employers.
- To deliver careers programmes.
- To help design curricula.
- To support teachers’ professional development.
- And to keep equipment up-to-date.
Ultimately, the more young people hear from us, the more they meet entrepreneurs face to face, the more they hear stories, the more they can be inspired by them.
Because that inspiration creates aspiration. That aspiration creates achievement. And that achievement changes lives.
So there’s plenty of ways for employers to help. But it will also take partnership. Business, government, education – coming together.
As we’re seeing with the Kickstart programme.
A fantastic idea – with over £2 billion pounds. Creating jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit, who are at risk of long-term unemployment.
I know many FE centres – Sheffield College, Loughborough College, and dozens of others have stepped up to support the scheme: becoming Kickstart ‘gateways’.
But we know these programmes aren’t always perfect from day one.
When it was first launched, businesses had to create 30 jobs to qualify. And the way it was originally structured made it very difficult for SMEs to participate.
Government listened to them, and removed that limit. A great example of government listening to business and responding.
And since then, countless employers have signed up. With more than 150,000 placements approved. But of those 150,000 – fewer than 5,000 are actually up and running.
That’s less than 4%.
It’s understandable – where the latest lockdown has put plans on pause. And some sectors, like retail, or hospitality. can’t get placements started until they re-open.
But many others are struggling with the process.
On the one hand, a promising sign – with employers so keen to sign up, it’s taking time to sift through more applications than anticipated – a vote of confidence in the scheme.
But on the other hand – a real worry for employers, and school leavers as otherwise ‘oven-ready’ opportunities get lost in delays and red tape.
So with the scheme due to end in less than 9 months, employers simply don’t have enough time to make the most of it.
We need to step up for our young people, our economy, and our society.
So today, the CBI is calling on the government to extend the Kickstart deadline by a further 6 months. Until June 2022. To account for any delays as our economy re-opens. To guarantee time to process the huge demand for placements. And to make sure as many young people can benefit from the scheme as possible.
What we need now, is that same responsiveness from government we saw earlier in the year. To iron out the remaining wrinkles in the process. Because for many businesses, it’s taking too long to get a response from government. It’s taking too long to match placements with candidates. And it’s unclear why some applications have been rejected.
We need to do things quicker, with more transparency to make these opportunities a reality.
So let’s extend the deadline.
And meanwhile – at the CBI, we’ll continue to support the DWP to make the application process for businesses as efficient and effective as it can be.
Working together – for the next generation.
Because if there are two watchwords to take from this pandemic, they are resilience, and collaboration.
Industry, government, and education – united.
And there is perhaps no stronger example of that right now than the covid vaccine.
With great universities, like Oxford, in partnership with businesses, like AstraZeneca. An international company, headquartered in Cambridge. Collaborating with the Serum Institute of India – the biggest vaccine manufacturer in the world.
‘Global Britain’ – global collaboration.
Together, making the vaccine for the world. Their efforts and collaboration are a real cause for hope. And for me, a sign that we need our children to have – right from the beginning that global outlook. And global attitude in their education – all the way through from school to university…
…meeting international students…
…and sharing exchange programmes – to forge generation long links.
I am proud to be president of UKISA which looks after the interests of all 450,000 international studs in the UK. And to be co-chair of the APPG for international students.
My 84-year-old mother, in India, went to university in Britain in the 1950s. To this day, she keeps in touch with those UK peers – they are some of her best friends.
And the same is true of global leaders and diplomats. At any one time, more world leaders have been educated at British universities than any other country – along with the USA.
And we must never forget, that the quality of our education is such a huge source of our soft power as a nation.
And the final thing I want to say is about the right to lifelong learning. Because we can’t take it for granted.
Once, even primary education was a luxury.
In fact, just last year – we celebrated the 150th anniversary of state education, with the Foundation for Education Development.
It’s true that the oldest school in Britain – Kings College, Canterbury – goes back to the seventh century.
But it’s stark to think that we've only had state education – accessible to all – for 150 years.
Until 1918, children only had the right to learning up to age 14. As recently as the 1970s, it was increased to 16. And then 18 – even later, in 2015.
Can you believe that? We’re only celebrating the 150 years of state education in the UK.
That right to education is a human right. But we also shouldn’t see learning as a single, finite experience.
More than anything, our country has succeeded – historically – through our ability to be creative and innovative. It’s one of the key strengths of the United Kingdom. And we’ve proved this time and again.
With less than 1% of the world’s population…
…the UK has 6 of the 30 top universities..
…15% of the most cited research…
…and 12% of Nobel Prizes.
With Cambridge University – a British university – awarded more Nobel Prizes than any other university in the world.
So we are very, very good at learning. And we need to encourage that creativity and innovation from a young age. To unleash that creativity.
It’s within every one of us – but people don't have the confidence. And if you can unleash that spirit, it's so powerful.
But there's no shortcut. We need to instil a thirst for learning – not by rote as we used to, but through the Socratic method – through questioning, through curiosity, through reasoning, through challenging.
And learning doesn’t stop after school, it doesn’t stop after college – it’s lifelong.
As a member of the Centenary Adult Education Commission – I’ve seen it first-hand.
My father was in the army, so I went to seven schools. I got two degrees, I became a qualified chartered accountant, I started a business. And I thought I was done with education.
How wrong I was.
I went on to study at Cranfield School of Management, London Business School, and Harvard Business School. And I realised learning never stopped.
Because, as Warren Buffett said – “the more you learn the more you earn”.
In conclusion, when you talk to young people today – and you ask them what their priorities are, two things stand out.
First – is diversity and inclusion. It really matters to them.
And I’m proud that last year, at the CBI, we launched ‘Change the Race Ratio’ to champion ethnic diversity across business, which so many employers have already signed up to.
And second – is sustainability, the environment and climate change.
Now, we've got to make sure that we give every child, the education, the skills, and the opportunities to build that better world they want to see.
One of my favourite sayings by Mahatma Gandhi is:
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
And that is what we must all do.