Liz Field is chief executive of the Financial and Legal Skills Partnership

As the UK economy improves, and confidence in the business and professional services sectors reaches a fifteen-year high, FE professionals are pivotal in ensuring the widest possible dissemination of career planning guidance and access to quality work experience.

Many companies are keen to take on fresh young talent, to progress company expansion, and provide a future pipeline of skills. Yet, a report earlier this year from The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) showed that 77% of small business owners surveyed believe school leavers' business awareness is poor, and 81% are 'not very' or 'not at all confident' that students leaving school at 16 have the right level of employability skills.

To counter these beliefs, young people need effective business role models/mentors to show them the necessary skills and knowledge to break into business. Professionals in the FE sector, including middle and senior management working in colleges can effectively contribute to increased participation in such programmes as the FLSP's virtual work experience and e-mentoring. Mentoring opportunities also allow companies to recognise the aspirations and potential of internal employees, and build on their strengths and development needs.

These virtual programmes give young people an opportunity to gain the necessary skills and knowledge to break into business, while companies can also access bright, fresh talent, even if they operate outside the capital. This includes the 148,600 firms in Scotland, 61,200 in Wales, 200,000+ in both the North West and South East of England, and more than 100,000 in each of Yorkshire and Humber, South West, East England, and West Midlands regions of England.

Participating e-mentors find increased job satisfaction, aware they are playing an immensely important role in a young person's life. Mentors impart real knowledge and skills, and give ambitious young people a chance to take the first crucial step towards securing meaningful work.

However, more business mentors are urgently needed to make those significant differences in the lives of young people, encouraging them to build on their strengths and achieve their full potential. FE professionals can play a part in strengthening the link between education and industry, by showing companies how they can be a flexible bridge between the two. Through business mentoring, a young person's formal education is built on through access to practical education 'in the field'. In turn, this guidance will enhance young people's confidence in approaching companies for work, and encourage companies to see the embryonic potential of young people, and be prepared to nurture it through mentoring.

The Financial and Legal Skills Partnership (FLSP) proactively supports the development of a skilled workforce in the UK's financial services sectors. The 'GetInGetOn' programme, which aims to provide 16-19 year olds with the necessary skills and knowledge to break into the financial and professional services sectors, has already achieved a milestone in engaging more than 150 e-career mentors. In England, this is part funded by the UKCES.

More than 200 young people are also benefiting from the programme, undertaking online immersive learning modules, delivered through an interactive platform, at the same time as having access to industry professionals with whom they can have e-conversations about careers and working in the sector.

Mentors need to commit only seven hours of time for each month-long placement. This includes one hour to complete a Criminal Records Bureau form, one hour of online training on how to be a good e-mentor, both are only done once, an optional one-hour webinar, and four hours of e-mentoring activity per mentee.

Virtual work experience is highly effective, with no overheads costs, and the ability to respond to queries in convenient 'virtual' time. Questions and answers can be left on the online platform, from any geographical location. The entire project is hosted on a learning platform that enables mentors and mentees to communicate in a safeguarded and monitored way. The platform is fully accessible and complies with appropriate accessibility guidelines.

Mentoring is increasingly recognised as an essential component in a company's overall Corporate Social Responsibility programme. More than two million people work in the financial sector, which contributes billions of pounds to the economy each year. If just 10% of those business professionals joined the mentoring scheme, their contribution of just an hour a week would provide much needed benefits to young people.

FE professionals have a critical role in working with local employers to show that a few hours spent in mentoring young people will result in creating an invaluable business resource. By virtually extending young people's formal education into the practical world of work, FE professionals will also ensure a positive change in business attitudes towards those young people's future employability. That change will ensure long-lasting economic benefits across the education and business worlds, and in the lives of eager, capable young people.

Liz Field is chief executive of the Financial and Legal Skills Partnership, an employer-led organisation that represents large firm partners on the current skills issues affecting the industry


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