John Yarham, Interim Chief Executive at the Careers & Enterprise Company

In a few week’s time hundreds of thousands of young people will be opening envelopes to reveal their GCSE and A level results. It is a familiar ritual, often played out over breakfast TV year after year.

However, this summer’s results season will be unlike any we have witnessed before. The typical scenes of excitement and joy for many, tempered by the disappointment of others will be tinged with an additional layer of uncertainty.

Not only will young people be clutching grades that result from not having actually sat the exams, but particularly for those leaving school and college, they face the prospect of stepping out into one of the most challenging and difficult employment environments seen for many generations.

These key transition points in a young person’s life journey and the choices they make can leave a lasting legacy. Research by the Resolution Foundation found those leaving education this year are likely to face reduced employment prospects and pay even after the economy has recovered.

Building on lockdown learning

In such a profoundly challenging environment, beset by the consequences of Covid-19, young people’s need for careers support will be more acute than ever. It is vitally important for us all to step up the levels of support and guidance available, to help them make the informed choices that can positively influence their futures.

That support will need to be tailored to the immediate needs of today’s GCSE and A level graduates, but we must also look beyond. While we require an intensive focus on this summer’s school leavers, we must also look to the future generations who are about to start their GCSE and A level journey.

We have seen what the demand for support and guidance looks like during lockdown through the lens of our “My Week of Work” initiative with Oak Academy and Learn Live in June, when more than 750 schools and nearly 120,000 young people took part in a week of online work experience.

Our Work It films, featuring recent entrants into the world of work, and aimed at students about to make transition choices, have received 35,000 views in the first few weeks of airing.  

Such hunger for guidance is hardly surprising when you digest the sobering reports about the looming impact on our economy and jobs market.

The latest figures show youth unemployment has doubled in the last two months, rising from 238,100 to 498,300 - the sharpest rise since 1992 - prompting fears of deepening disadvantage and long-term damage to the employment and earnings prospects of young people.

This fear is made more real by a closer look at the numbers. In Blackpool, one in eight residents (12%) are now unemployed, up from 7% in March. One in ten are unemployed in Wolverhampton Middlesbrough and Hull.

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found lockdown will hit younger workers the hardest, as they are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely than other employees to work in a sector that is shut down.

A Teacher Tapp poll for The Careers & Enterprise Company in June revealed that 49 per cent of teachers fear a lack of jobs for young people and damage to their career prospects as result of covid pandemic. Nearly all - 98% - say their students have been anxious and uncertain about their future choices since lockdown. Nearly three in five put this down to uncertainty over GCSE and A-level grading.

Faced with an environment plagued by uncertainty and reduced options, many are prompted into a hasty rush to safer havens, including the university option. However, for some, university may not be an available or the best choice.

Nearly 70 per cent of school leavers do not have the option of higher education. They face a labour market with high levels of unemployment, intense competition for every vacancy and reductions in both apprenticeship places and early career roles.

A critical need to join forces

Recent Government announcements of the Kickstart programme supporting new jobs for 16-24 year olds, £111m to provide an additional 30,000 traineeship places and additional funding for apprenticeships are strong signals of support for young people.

We all have a role to play to provide the increased levels of support our young people will require in these testing times. The Careers & Enterprise Company’s network is geared up to make critical connections between schools and colleges and the employers, resources, advice and expertise needed to ensure timely and relevant guidance is at hand.

We are facilitating and funding community level responses to join up with regional recovery plans, linking to local routes and pathways into work. Our ‘My Choices’ programme will launch on 3 August. This is an opportunity for national providers to speak directly to young people about their next steps into education, employment or training and how they can help them.

Whether it be choosing the most appropriate A level subjects, degree, college or apprenticeship route, we must all stand ready to support our young generation as we emerge from lock down through recovery. Anything less simply will not do.

John Yarham, interim CEO, The Careers & Enterprise Company

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