Youth employment and applying progressive ideas

Last week, I was delighted to deliver the guest address at the CESI Youth Employment convention taking part in The Oval.

Speaking as a mentor from the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, I spoke about the work we do at the trust and a little about my route into employment and the journey I have been on to get there.


This year’s convention took part over 2 days and included many special guests including HRH the countess of Wessex. Simon Martin, Head of global Corporate sustainability HSBC. Dave Simmonds OBE, chief executive inclusion and Stewart Segal, chief executive, association of employment and learning providers. Not to mention the many employers and training providers who came along, but more importantly and even more promisingly, it saw a big turnout of young people from all over the UK.

I particularly enjoyed listening to the youth panel which consisted of young people from across the country come together to share their ideas, opinions and experiences on the crucial subject of youth employment.

Later in the day, I was delighted to attend the evening dinner. Where dinner sponsor Barnardos, gave a fantastic insight into the organisation and their commitment to young people.

I found the whole event, both insightful and thought provoking.

The first obstacle young people face when transitioning from education to employment is getting the right careers advice.
With cuts being made to the services which were once there to guide and advise young people into work and training it is clear that many young people feel they are not given sufficient information in order to be able to make informed decisions as to what steps they should be taking next.

Teachers are under immense stress and pressure not only from students but from the government to deliver careers advice and guidance at a time when they are already overworked and over stretched.

The young people from the panel agreed that appropriate advice regarding other routes into employment other than university and higher education should be more readily available. Many young people, myself included, have been discouraged from participating in apprenticeships or vocational courses in favour of the more traditional routes in to work.

This attitude towards vocational training is both outdated and wrong as apprenticeships give young people the opportunity to pursue a career in an industry they are passionate about, whilst earning a wage, learning practical skills and gaining vital experience.
Apprentices are also able to work towards a recognised qualification which allows them to develop a good theoretical understanding of the environment and job they are in. Apprenticeships also allow employers to shape their apprentices according to the role required therefore making them more liable to being kept on with the company once the apprenticeship is complete.

A recent survey has found that 93% of young people say they are not getting the vital careers advice needed to find a job or make decisions about their future. Only 25% have received information on apprenticeships, and even more worryingly just 17% were told about vocational qualifications available to them. In stark contrast 62% were given information on A-Levels and 65% on going to university.

In the future young people would like to see Vocational qualifications that are equivalent to degrees.

Schools need to recognise apprenticeships as a recognised and formalised route to achieving the relevant occupational expertise required in the workplace.

Another subject which crept up throughout the day was that of the curriculum, what is taught and how it is taught, with many of us agreeing that certain things need to be taught in a way which can be applied to everyday life and the working world, with many young people believing we are taught just enough to pass exams and therefore get the schools the statistics they need but you are learning to pass an exam rather than learning the practical skills which can be applied to everyday life.

MP Rushanara Ali, believes that ‘every young person should have an entitlement to work experience, and proper exposure to work’.

The youth panel pointing out the irony of needing work experience in order to gain work experience, brushing up on the fact that many people leave university in the hope of a high paid job, only to be told by employers that they need experience.

The youth panel discussed the negative connotations attached to the name ‘work experience’. Asking, Can we rename ‘work experience’ to make it sound more adult, meaningful and appealing?

Questions were also asked over the lack of choice and input a young person has regarding the compulsory 2 week ‘work experience’ placement young people are required to undertake in their final year at school.

In my opinion, at the end of the placement, employers should be encouraged to keep young people on and schools should allow for pupils to learn, train and gain qualifications from employers.

It was also made clear that work providers, need to work more closely with young people and questions were asked as to whether the job centre and other employment services could be doing more to encourage, support, inform and guide young people.
Is job centre plus fit for purpose in its current, for young people, asked Tony Wilson.

One thing all of the young people agreed on was the difference that having a mentor, support worker or careers advisor had and the positive impact it made. It is amazing what a young person can achieve when given the confidence and self belief. All it takes is for an employer to believe in a young person. With with the backing, the belief and the support of local businesses and employers, the possibilities are endless.

Just before my speech, HRH countess of Wessex , informed us that ‘up to 750,000 young people think they have nothing to live for’ a harrowing statistic that should never exist.

We must not forget the factors influencing and causing youth unemployment in the first place. With the current economic downturn, a rise in poverty, youngsters turning to crime and family breakdown to name a few, until these issues are addressed and solved, rather than papered over then youth unemployment will remain the same if not get worse.

An example of this is youths who turn to crime or anti-social behaviour. Many times kids who have problems at home can end up with problems at school. Trouble at school usually leads to trouble out of school and when schools are not equipped to deal with these kids, due to lack of resources and not having the staff, quite often these kids end up being thrown out of school, where they are unlikely to continue education, or find employment and are more likely to fall in with the wrong crowd. Often ending up on the streets or in gangs. Before you know it you have another child lost in the system.

With a lack of youth services and things for young people to get involved with in their communities, young people are being failed. The cuts being made, mean that services which are there to help struggling families and young people are over stretched and not able to provide adequate support, and help to the most vulnerable and to those who need it most.

I strongly believe that the correct preventative measures need to be introduced in order to eradicate further problems from happening down the line.

Young people need to be listened to and have a more active role in ensuring that young people’s needs are being met.
Politicians need to speak to young people, who are furthest from society, not just those involved in BYC and youth parliament.
Employers need to have faith and put more trust and in young people.

Despite all the negative press surrounding young people, not all young people are bad. Every adult was young once, we just need to be given a chance.

Being at the youth employment convention and hearing from inspiring young people about how they are actively involved in their communities, and positively impacting their peers, is a reminder that the majority of young people are bright, intelligent, well mannered and eager to learn.

Most importantly just by being there, it shows that young people care about their future and the future of their peers and that was what I found the most promising. The convention saw hundreds of employers, training providers, MP’s, and young people united by their commitment and interest in young people and their futures. Sharing positive and progressive ideas on helping young people out of unemployment and in to work.

If I ever had any doubts, my faith in young people has definitely been restored. Hearing young people so actively involved in the debates which took place and so passionate about their beliefs, these young people were a real credit to their communities. A lot more should be done to highlight all of the good things young people are doing because, for all the bad press young people get, there is a lot more good to be found.

Often labelled ‘the lost generation’, there is no doubt that we still have a long way to go before we see a significant decrease in the amount of young people who are not in education, employment or training.

But don’t write us of just yet.

The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. And ultimately it is the youth who will be left to inherit all of the problems we face as a country, such as the ever growing problem of global warming, the recession, and the problem of overcrowding to name a few. If we don’t take the correct measures into ensuring that the next generation is given the support, guidance and encouragement they deserve, then where will that leave us 20 years from now? As a young person I feel it is essential to not only invest our money but to also invest our time into ensuring that young people have the best opportunities possible.

To read more about this year’s convention and for more information on how to get involved next year please visit :

A link to my opening speech:

Many thanks to Fran and everyone at the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion for inviting me along to the event.

It has been a pleasure to be involved, and I hope to continue to empower and encourage other young people to take a stand and make a positive change in their lives.

Together we can work together to create a better future for everyone.



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