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EducationEmployment and training

A forgotten generation

A young woman browses on a large computer tablet. She looks pensively at the screen.

Teenagers need to be supported to explore alternative paths into employment if we’re to help them fulfil their potential. In our latest blog, Catch22’s Strategic Director of Employability and Skills, Victoria Head, explains why.

The dark days of lockdowns and pandemic panic may have left us, but for many the impact of that period continues to loom large.

As a parent, and as a passionate believer in providing young people with the opportunity to build interesting and lasting careers, I am concerned. I’m concerned about how teenagers – who during the pandemic were at a pivotal time in their lives – have been affected when it comes to their education. And I’m concerned that those young people who for whatever reason lack resilience and support in their lives, have been disproportionately affected, making it even harder for them to fulfil their ambitions.

A pivotal period

It’s been well documented how the mental health and wellbeing of the population suffered because of the pandemic, not least because of impact of lockdowns. For school-age children, there was the social isolation as well as the inevitable effect of home schooling. For those in the upper years of primary school and early years of secondary schools, it’s well known how tricky that transition period can be at the best of times.

We’ve seen in the years following the pandemic that school attendance rates have plummeted, with over a fifth (22%) of pupils persistently absent and 2% completely absent. The number of pupils on Education, Health and Care Plans has increased.

The very nature of what education is, and its importance, is being questioned and challenged. Parents who previously had no problem with their child’s school attendance are often being met with resistance.

Meeting aspirations

One of the problems with our traditional education system is that, in many ways, it doesn’t equip children and young people with the skills required for the ever-changing future job market. There is a growing gap between the employment opportunities that are, and will be, available, and the awareness and skillsets of young people to enter those jobs.

Young people want to be financially independent and want to be doing something career-wise that is interesting and gives them purpose. The question is, how best to support them to get there?

Alternative routes

University isn’t for everyone. Apprenticeships aren’t for everyone. Bootcamps aren’t for everyone. The one-size-fits-all approach to further and higher education has long gone, yet the school and careers system doesn’t seem to have caught up.

Almost daily, there are new skills bootcamps emerging that are tailored to specific industries and roles, and which offer a fast-track into future-proof employment. Modern apprenticeships not only pay a decent salary, but in many cases give apprentices a way into an organisation that will train them up and retain them as loyal employees. Work placements are woefully underused, yet are excellent in giving people an understanding of what a particular job involves and seeing if it’s a good fit.

Doing things differently

For those 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds who are struggling to see the value in traditional education, and who are striving for an alternative, what are the options?

Catch22’s alternative provision schools and colleges are one example of doing things differently. While we work with young people who struggle to cope in mainstream education, our approach is highly applicable across other settings. Every child benefits from a bit of direction, some support and encouragement and, ultimately, someone taking an interest in them. Many get this at home, but many don’t. We do a lot of one-to-one work with pupils, helping them map out where they want to get to and how to get there – encouraging them to be ambitious and to match their interests with a potential future career.

We start career advice and mentoring early, building aspiration in young people and making sure they have the tools to successfully embark on a career that suits them.

Talent over time spent

To make this a success, we need employers to be willing to do things a bit differently too. One thing we find all too often is that entry level roles are very restrictive, and progression pathways in organisations are based on time spent doing a role rather than whether the talent is there to move onwards and upwards sooner.

Why couldn’t a young person in an entry level role who showed potential be moved up to a more senior role for a year, provided with a mentor, and supported to ‘learn on the job’ rather than having to serve their time and risk becoming un-enthused and frustrated?

We should be empowering people and giving responsibility to young people so they can prove their potential. We need to be proving to the young person who is a victim of County Lines activity that their business acumen can be put to better use in a legitimate career setting. We need to be identifying the digital stars of the future who can currently make more money from online scams then they can from any entry level job they may be forced into. We need to get better at giving young people the support and ambition early so when it comes to the world of work, they are motivated and ready to embark on their career of choice.

The risk of doing nothing

If we don’t start to think differently, we risk failing this and future generations. We will see youth employment rates rise, the numbers leaving school without qualifications rise, youth violence and crime figures increasing and communities collapsing.

People, place and purpose

At Catch22, we talk a lot about our 3Ps – the idea that, in order to thrive in life, people need good people around them, a safe place to be, and purpose in life. No more so is this true than for this forgotten generation.

If we make sure our young people have someone they can talk to and who can offer sound advice, we give them a route to a job that provides a sense of purpose, and we make sure that wherever they do end up working is safe and allows them to flourish, then we’ll be getting it right.