An inability to access work experience represents the single biggest barrier to finding a job for young people, according to research from Speakers for Schools (@speakrs4schools), the leading social mobility charity founded by Robert Peston.

A YouGov survey commissioned by the charity sought views from more than 2,000 young people, aged 11 to 19 across the UK, asking about their attitudes towards education and employment in a post-Covid environment. The inability to access relevant work experience is revealed as the single biggest barrier to finding a job, with 39% of respondents ranking it as their top concern.

Meanwhile, it also highlights the sheer demand amongst young people to gain experience working with employers, with almost half (47%) ranking work experience and internships as the most valued tool for boosting confidence ahead of starting their career.

Young people feel disillusioned by politicians

Separate YouGov surveys of 100 business leaders and 100 MPs were conducted in parallel to the young person survey, revealing a significant disconnect between the priorities of young people and the views of businesses and politicians.

Over 7 in 10 young people (73%) think politicians have a poor understanding of their needs and aspirations, and over half (52%) think the same of businesses. Yet a staggering 87% of MPs believe they understand them well.

Whereas business leaders share a similar view to young people, ranking work experience as the most important tool for help recover from the impact of Covid-19. Over a third of respondents (37%) rate it more highly than other measures such as summer schools (36%), a longer school day (35%) and personal tutoring (34%). Whereas the majority of MPs believe personal tutoring (65%) is the most effective way to support young people post-Covid.

Rachael Saunders, Education and Policy Director at Speakers for Schools, comments:

“This research highlights a yearn amongst young people for more work experience and a collective recognition of the impact it has on their ability to succeed as they transition out of school and into further education or the world of work. Particularly now as we emerge from a pandemic that has been economically and socially devasting for the younger generation.

“Although business leaders share a similar view, there is clearly a disconnect between the views of politicians and young people. It is time work experience is awarded the same level of recognition by the government. It becomes a central part of its approach to helping young people recover and ensuring it doesn’t impact their future prospects. We stand ready to support the government in delivering these aims.”

Josh Evans (17), an A-levels student from Darlington, comments:

“To truly help young people recover from this time, we need more than a summer school or personal tutoring. We need lots of support that isn’t just academic. For instance, ongoing work experience opportunities, CV training and mental health guidance are equally as important to helping young people leave school or university feeling prepared to find a job.”

A call to action for UK businesses and politicians

Speakers for Schools is calling upon businesses to consider offering more work experience opportunities to young people in a bid to improve their employability and help them recover post-pandemic while building essential talent pipelines to support long-term business growth.

Meanwhile, the charity also asks the government to reconsider its catch up plans to ensure careers programmes are incorporated, with work experience a serious consideration. Currently, schools are working to Gatsby Benchmarks, which state that by the age of 16, every student should have had at least one workplace experience, additional to any part-time jobs they may have. Speakers for Schools argues this should be the absolute minimum, with every young person given multiple opportunities to ensure they’re experiencing a range of sectors and jobs.

Social mobility app launched to improve job access

The findings were published today after the charity launched a dedicated careers app last week, Youth Card, packed with over 20,000 work experience opportunities, careers guidance, inspirational talks from sector leaders, along with a range of discounts from leading retailers. Spotify, bp and the Bank of England are just a handful of the leading employers already signed up to offer work experience through the app.

Speakers for Schools is partnered with Youth Enterprise, UK Youth and the European Youth Card Association to launch Youth Card in the UK. It is free to download and available to young people in the UK aged 11 to 25.

Businesses can partner with Speakers for Schools to offer work experience through the app. 

Robert Peston, Founder of Speakers for Schools, commented:

“Young people recognise that work experience is a vital part of understanding the world of work, learning about the skills they’ll need and acquiring confidence. We call on all our leaders, in Westminster and business, to help Speakers for Schools in its mission to provide high-quality workplace experiences to as many state school students as possible”.

Andrew Law, Chair of Speakers for Schools, said:

“Young people have been disproportionately affected by the global pandemic, and the coming months and years will be critical in repairing that damage. Our research has highlighted the value that young people place on work experience, but the reality is it is still unattainable to many. We urge more employers to partner with us and consider providing work experience opportunities or careers guidance. Our new Youth Card represents a crucial tool for engaging with young people across the UK of all backgrounds, providing them with life-changing experiences which could determine their future career paths.”

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