I heard about the British Youth Council from one of my colleagues at The Careers & Enterprise Company, who offered me the opportunity to get involved in their latest project on improving the work experience in UK. I was thrilled to learn more about the work of the British Youth Council, which is to empower young people across the country to use their voices.
At The Careers & Enterprise Company, our mission is to inspire and prepare young people for the world of work, by building networks, backing the Gatsby Benchmarks and supporting Careers Leaders. For these reasons, and also because not long ago I was a young person experiencing or looking for work experience myself, it only felt natural for me to want to offer my skills and expertise to this project.
I worked with five other members in the Action Group, between the ages of 16-25. They had the same purpose: to find new ways to improve how the work experience is delivered by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) across the UK. The way we did this was by designing a toolkit for SMEs, called ‘Unleashing the potential of work experience: A guide for SMEs’, explaining what good quality work experience is, what young people expect from it and the ways SMEs can deliver it. Each member of the Action Group brought a different set of skills and experiences to the table which really made a difference and added a personal touch to this toolkit.
As I currently work in the Marketing team at The Careers & Enterprise Company – and am being trained to become a graphic designer, the idea of designing a new publication really made me enjoy the time spent brainstorming design options and I was more than happy to offer my expertise in this area.
We attended a three-day residential where we approached multiple ideas, researched what work experience currently looks like and drafted the content for the future toolkit. We also played social games, to get to know each other and to learn how to work together effectively.
In State of the Nation 2019 – a recent report from The Careers & Enterprise Company, it celebrates the improvement of careers education and highlights that at least 2 million young people are now receiving an encounter with an employer every year. These are brilliant outcomes for young people across England – but we know there is still work to do.
During the residential, we had a video call with Emelia Quist from Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) who told us more about the barriers SMEs face when it comes to offering work experience to young people. These included time, lack of financial resources and a general misunderstanding of what it is needed from them in order to provide the best quality work experience.
Taking this information into account when creating the toolkit, we incorporated statistics, myth busters and case studies showcasing personal opinions from young people who had previous good and bad work experiences.
We also had the chance to speak with and interview other young people from across the country, in a workshop that we have done since the residential. Hearing from young people gave us a much deeper insight into the way they perceive work experience and how SMEs can further help with careers guidance.
We focused on finding five main areas that will guide SMEs to offer better quality work experience. These included:
- Preparation and planning
- An enabling and inclusive environment
- Skills development and support
- Feedback and evaluation
Additionally, we included a bank of resources that SMEs can use, such as a feedback form, a daily planner for the young person, questions the employers should ask themselves when engaging with young people – but also practical actions to support them.
The toolkit, in its final form, aims to demystify careers education and guidance for SMEs. It also aims to offer some guidance and advice to employers who are willing to offer work experience to young people across the country.
I believe this project has the power to make a difference in the way employers see and deliver work experience in the UK. I am certain of this because this toolkit has been created by a group of motivated young people who are extremely passionate about their futures. I was extremely lucky to meet so many young people who want to experience the real world of work, gain new skills, knowledge and become better versions of themselves. I also hope that SMEs will find in this toolkit the support they need in order to offer better quality work experience in the future.
It’s been a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded people, who have the same mission, which is to improve the culture of work. It also made me realise how important it is for young people to use their voices, their experiences and to fight for every change they want to see in the world.
I’ve learnt how to communicate better and engage with different people with so many opinions, views and experiences by stepping out of my comfort zone and participating in this journey. The members of the British Youth Council really made sure we all felt respected, valued and safe during this project which I think is very important and it really helped us when putting together the best version of this toolkit.
Following consultation with young people, the Work Experience Action Group has launched their Work Experience Toolkit for small and medium businesses in England. The newly formed focus group has created a series of resources which are due to be distributed amongst Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and young people’s hubs outlining what quality work experience looks like and how to make it accessible to young people.
The group is made up of 6 young people aged 16-25, who have a range of experiences with work and education. The group is bound together by their commitment to ensuring young people have access to quality work experience opportunities. The report has been made possible by a grant from the People’s Postcode Trust: a grant-giving charity funded entirely by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
Through consultation with other young people and with support from The Careers & Enterprise Company, the Work Experience Action Group developed 5 aspects that make up a quality work experience placement, for SMEs to consider. These areas included preparation and planning, creating an enabling and inclusive environment, skills development, feedback and evaluation and follow-up.
The project was established following the Youth Select Committee’s inquiry into access to work experience last year. The committee of young people found there was a multitude of inequalities that affected young people’s access to good quality work experience across the UK. It also concluded young people from a rural area or from a low socio-economic background are amongst those that were facing a disproportionate lack of access. Employers from SMEs also expressed how they are willing to give good quality work experience but find that they are lacking the comprehension to construct an accessible environment to support all young people.
Commenting on the toolkit, Amanda
Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair of the British Youth Council, said: “We know there
are unacceptable levels of inequality affecting young people’s access to good
quality work experience across the UK.
“The Work Experience Action Group have developed a toolkit which will enable more employers to not only make their work experience placements more accessible but will also ensure they can provide high quality opportunities.”
Creating Work Experience hubs for 11-18 year olds was one of the top issues in the UK Youth Parliament’s 2017 Make Your Mark ballot. The ballot saw almost 950,000 young people vote on issues that mattered most to them.
The British Youth Council have supported calls for the Government to take steps to deliver a fairer society by supporting younger people in the housing and employment market.
In a new report published by the House of Lords Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision, the Government is also asked to ensure local authorities have specific planning policies to meet the housing needs of young people. The Committee also goes on to recommend the Government make substantial increases in funding for Further Education and vocational training to tackle unfairness between those to go onto Higher Education and those who do not.
The British Youth Council also backed calls for make the government to make PSHE a statutory subject that is inspected by Ofsted and includes education about housing and finance matters. The national youth council has made repeated calls for statutory PSHE over a number of years. In a ballot of over 1.1 million young people, which was coordinated by the British Youth Council, a curriculum that prepares students for life was one of the top five issues.
Commending on the report findings, Lewis Addlington-Lee, Deputy Chair of the British Youth Council said: “The British Youth Council welcome the findings of the House of Lords Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision.
“The Lord Committee’s findings make it clear more affordable housing, the introduction of statutory PSHE and investment in services such as youth provision and a Government willing to listen to the needs of young people will help us to tackle international unfairness and importantly build a fairer society.”
The national youth-led charity believes there is a lack of affordable housing for young people in some rural areas; exacerbating the problems that young people face in remaining in or moving into rural areas to work and live. The British Youth Council believe that there is a need to look for sustainable solutions to rural housing problems.
Last month, Youth Employment UK launched their Youth Voice Census with support from The Careers and Enterprise Company and Pearson Education. The leading-edge census will act as an innovative platform for young people aged 16-24 to voice their opinion on a variety of issues from work experience to going to university and everything in-between, allowing them to say how they’re really feeling.
Young people will be able to complete the census confidently knowing that their views will better inform a variety of organisations about the situation and circumstances they and other young people are facing. Youth Employment UK will share the results to better inform policy, provision and resources.
I’m a proud ambassador for Youth Employment UK and I’ve been privileged enough to have been working with the organisation since January 2016. During the last two years, I’ve seen the organisation go from strength to strength, I feel honoured to have been part of a number of projects aiming to help other young people move into employment or start their own businesses. Youth Employment UK are working hard to tackle levels of unemployment across 16 to 24-year olds in the UK and they’re doing so much great work – it’s amazing. The new Youth Voice Census is certainly a further step in the right direction as tackling youth unemployment remains one of the biggest challenges facing the UK’s labour market. Whilst I was going through school and sixth-form, I never had the opportunity to voice my opinion on issues like careers advice, apprenticeships and vocational courses. My school was one of the fortunate few in the Sheffield area to have a dedicated careers adviser, however, I still couldn’t help but feel somewhat forced into remaining in education rather than taking up a vocational option whether that was after my GCSE’s or sixth-form.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m currently studying Business and Enterprise Management at Sheffield Hallam University and I’m loving every minute of it – it’s certainly the perfect course for me, but it was a long road to get to university. In hindsight, A-levels weren’t for me, I put myself through 2-years of A-levels and had to fight so hard to get those top grades whilst I could have chosen to do a vocational BTEC business course and I feel I would have not only scored higher grades this way, I would have enjoyed it so much more too. The new Youth Voice Census launched by Youth Employment UK allows young people like me who have had negative experiences surrounding various elements of education and employment to share their opinion and protect young people making these choices in the future!
By being able to voice their opinion and make it count, I feel young people are likely to have a much more positive mindset when it comes to making similar decisions in their future careers. Your mindset can influence everything you do and if young people feel their opinion is valued, they will feel supported when moving into the next stage of their careers.
Whilst I’ve been working with Youth Employment UK over the last two years, the biggest issue I feel we need to tackle is managing employers’ expectations. They regularly expect young people to be ‘work ready’ and too many companies aren’t prepared to take a risk on a young person who has little experience. Employers need to start putting their hands in their pockets and training young people as they start their careers. I’ve interviewed a variety of young people across the UK who often feel disheartened when they’ve applied for countless jobs, and in some cases, not even received an email from the employer telling them they’ve been unsuccessful – that’s wrong. Important life skills aren’t properly developed in schools, young people are expected to gain these skills from experiences outside of school and that’s why so many aren’t considered ‘ready’ for employment as they just haven’t had the opportunity to excel themselves.
It’s important that careers advice and work experience must become an essential part of the curriculum. My advice to any young person reading this is to complete the Youth Employment UK Youth Voice Census and together change future young lives for the better. If you’re an employer or charity organisation, please help us to spread the word – it’s important that this census makes a difference.