A report published on Friday by the House of Lords social mobility committee states that the majority of the UK’s young people are being let down by an over-emphasis on academic qualifications and a lack of provision for those who wish to follow vocational routes.
Most young people in the UK do not go to university, and in an education system where success for both students and schools is measured largely by exam results and higher education destination data, hundreds of thousands of young people are being allowed to fall through the gaps.
The report also draws heavily on evidence from businesses, saying that ‘employers would rather recruit people who demonstrated that they had skills to succeed over those who had academic qualifications’ and, crucially, according to KPMG, ‘Experience of the workplace is essential in raising aspirations of young people and de-mystifying the workplace environment prior to interviews.’
In recent years, employers such as EY and Penguin Random House have removed degree requirements for applicants. This is an important step in levelling the playing field, but we need to do more to help young people develop the employability skills they need to succeed. It is vital that school-age children have the chance to experience the world of work before they get a job, and this can take many forms. The traditional two-week work experience stint may prove less effective than a Saturday job or spending one day per month in a workplace, for example, and links between employers and schools can help facilitate workshops or training in the ‘Life Skills’ that are so important in the world of work. The Government has committed to 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020: another important step, but it is equally important to ensure that access to these apprenticeships is fair, transparent and de-mystified.
MyBigCareer believes that every young person has the right to impartial, individual careers advice regardless of their background. The report by the social mobility committee highlights that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to succeed because ‘a lot of careers guidance for young people comes from their teachers. Teachers often have only experienced the A-Level/university route themselves and do not have much personal experience of other routes into work. […] Careers guidance in schools provides advice and information which people from disadvantaged backgrounds may not have access to elsewhere.’ Indeed, the Sutton Trust’s Leading People 2016 report states that, despite just 7% of the UK population attending fee-paying schools, the privately educated represent 61% of top doctors, 50% of Cabinet ministers, 51% of journalists, 63% of British Nobel Prize winners, and 74% of the top judiciary – with a disproportionate number of barristers and solicitors consistently coming from the same schools and universities.
If schools do not have successful relationships with businesses as well as careers advisers who are familiar with the many possible routes into work, then those young people whose parents may not have the knowledge to advise them, the contacts to pull strings, or the money to pay for a private education will miss out.