Career Connect

In her latest blog, Career Connect CEO Sheila Clark explains how investing now in careers support for under-served young people is vital in long term prosperity for us all.

Our Research and Evaluation team recently published their analysis of the increasing support needs of young people leaving school.

Their work also looks at the pressures that this places on local authorities and delivery partners in ensuring that all young people are in education, training, or quality employment at 16 years of age.

The numbers of young people nationally who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) is rising significantly – a trend we have seen since the relaxing of Covid restrictions in June 2021.

Behind these overall figures, our analysis shows a sharp increase in the percentage of young people leaving school who have a special education need or disability, and/or have care experience. Young people in these groups, and those engaged with youth justice services are over-represented among NEET young people.

Of course, individual localities have their own specific factors which should be addressed (our recent paper on place-based risks of youth unemployment explores this in more detail) but wider data shows us that what we see in our analysis is being replicated in local authority areas across the UK.

Young people who are NEET or at risk of being NEET require additional support to stay on pathways towards good quality employment, further or higher education, and training. That is often in the form of a good relationship with a trusted adviser, where time is invested to understand the young person’s needs and help them to access and explore the options that are right for them.

From our own delivery, we also know that being able to combine this with practical support and resources to help fund the often-hidden barriers young people face (such as being able to afford travel, equipment for courses, obtaining an ID and access to short courses) can lead to remarkable results.

Connect To Your Future, delivered by Career Connect on behalf of GMCA, via European Social Fund funding, and Pathways to Employment, delivered by our St Helens team, funded by the Community Renewal Fund, have seen significant success working with targeted cohorts of young people in this way.

Yet, despite the rise in NEET numbers, as a country, we are investing significantly less in careers support for young people.

A recent report from the University of Derby estimates that we currently spend £68 per young person, per year of delivery of career guidance, compared to the equivalent figure in 2009 (adjusted for inflation) of £159. This is alongside reduced spending power for local authorities.

As a charity that delivers careers information, advice, and guidance on behalf of local authorities across the Northwest, we understand first-hand what this means – and it is something that goes far beyond numbers.

It is an issue that needs attention now to ensure the welfare, health and wellbeing of generations to come.

It is widely evidenced that the ages of 16-24 are key in setting the direction of a young person’s life.

This should be a time for discovery, researching options, understanding your own skills and interests. It’s a time where you should be finding your passion, developing your self-awareness, and when you should be able to access the experiences and qualifications that you need to move forward.

Barriers preventing engagement with education, employment and training at 16 have a long-term impact on future earnings and future employment chances. The longer a young person is NEET, the less likely they are to find future sustained employment.

Being NEET for long periods is also linked to poorer health – including mental health – and poorer employment outcomes throughout that person’s lifetime.

Research body Impetus has stated that time spent NEET between ages 16-24 can have a ”scarring effect” on young people.

If we don’t act now, we are missing our opportunity to set young people’s lives on a track to better earnings, better health and wellbeing, and increased social mobility for them and their children.

And, In the wider UK context, we would all benefit significantly as a society.

If we could get our national NEET levels to the same as Germany’s (just under 9%) – UKGDP would increase by £38bn (Youth Employment Index 2022 – PWC and Youth Futures Foundation).

But how can local authorities provide that support for young people, which requires personalised, time intensive resources to develop relationships, help them overcome barriers and plan for their futures?

As a charity, we are calling for adequate government funding for local and regional authorities.

While we warmly welcome the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and the impact that it can have, there is no denying that this funding is at a lower rate overall than the previous European Social Fund (ESF) monies.

Alongside greater overall funding from central government for local authorities’ work with NEET young people, we are calling for a greater proportion of the new UKSPF funding to be allocated to helping young people at this pivotal period in their lives to overcome barriers and access education, training and employment.

We need to take a step back and invest in young people who are facing barriers, to catch up and get on an equal footing with their peers. They need access to flexible provision that builds confidence and basic skills before they can move on to future planning.

It is hard to see how, with the current investment from government, that local authorities can fully meet this increasing need in the face of many competing priorities.

But in all of this, it is vital to realise that we are not just talking about an investment in a single group of young people at a single point in time.

We are talking about an investment in potential, and in society as a whole.

An investment in hope, in changing attitudes and outcomes for generations, and an increase in social mobility.

An investment now, that will give our UK economy a significant boost for decades.

An investment in us all.


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