London is a city with tremendous career opportunities, but unfortunately not every young Londoner is able to access these opportunities. The capital has the third highest rate of 16 to 24 year olds out of work in England, with nearly 1 in 5 young Londoners unemployed. In a recent survey of nearly 600 young Londoners by OMD UK on behalf of London Youth, 63% of them believe they are denied career-making work experience opportunities because they think employers value ‘who you know, not what you know’ and don’t take account of individuals’ skills or ambition. 85% of the young Londoners surveyed also wished employers offered more opportunities to explore careers with them.
And from speaking to a range of employers, big and small, we know there’s a desire from them to support more young people from different backgrounds into employment. But they’ve also told us of their frustration at being at the ‘end of the chain’ from many work-related programmes, which as a result means that young people who join them are not ready to make a success of their job.
So how can we engage employers meaningfully to tackle youth unemployment?
Over the last three years I’ve been working on London Youth’s employability programme, Talent Match London, collaborating with organisations such as Lloyds Bank, Sky, the National Gallery and Transport for London to design and create unique opportunities that support young people at a stage before they’re ready to commit to a longer term work placement – we call these ‘explore experiences’. These offer young people the chance to expose themselves to different industries through short taster sessions where participants benefit form the chance to test out a career or industry they hadn’t previously considered before committing to something for a longer period.
When measuring the success of these experiences, it should not be by whether a participant goes onto apply for a work placement, internship or job with the employer, but rather if they have a better understanding of that particular industry or the careers behind the brand. By making such an informed decision about their career, young people and employers too will benefit from a sustained and meaningful career.
Only last month, London Youth partnered with HM Treasury for the third Youth Outreach programme, bringing together a diverse group of 15 teenagers to give them a chance to gain employability skills, experience of the working world and a unique perspective on life at the Treasury over four days. Activities included private tours of Parliament and No. 10 and an International Crisis workshop run with the Ministry of Defence. Molly Forbes, a participant on this year’s programme said: “I liked talking to the Permanent Secretary [to the Treasury], because we got to ask him our own questions. He said he used to be a musician when he was younger – I didn’t realise musicians became civil servants.” By offering such opportunities to more young people like Molly we can challenge the stereotypes of what it means to be an employee in particular industries and grant and break down perceived barriers. Now in its third year, the programme has already been a springboard into the civil service for a former participant, who was able to secure a full-time one year apprenticeship at the Treasury following his completion of the programme.
I have heard many employers voice their frustration at wanting to employ more young people, but not having the time to help give them the support they might need. So it’s vital that employability support doesn’t just stop at the point that a young person secures a job, but continues for their initial months within the new role to help sustain their position. On Talent Match London, every participant has access to the ongoing support of their Support Worker for up to 6 months after securing employment. The programme focuses on using youth work skills – consistency of support, non-judgemental help and advice, signposting and coaching – to help young people build their confidence, and progress their emotional development.
To tackle youth unemployment successfully, we must take a collaborative approach with employers in order to design solutions that not only help young people develop the skills they need for employment, but also enable them to explore different industries and then sustain the jobs once in post.
This article was originally published in the Skills, Employment and Health journal on 6 December 2016