Many students are about to start a new term of learning. Managing director of Future First Alex Shapland-Howes asks what comes next when their studies are over?
When I last took a look, there was a bewildering choice of options for teenagers considering careers. Vocational or academic? On-the-job training or campus? How can they get a foot in the door?
All pretty confusing for the student planning his future and facing the most important question of all. Will the path they choose lead to a rewarding career? In a startlingly bleak picture, nearly 40 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds say they don't even know anyone in an interesting job they would like to do. Those statistics from a YouGov poll carried out for Future First, the national education charity of which I'm managing director, shows too many teenagers simply don't have access to parental or professional networks. We know the problem's particularly serious among students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. The Prince's Trust found that one in four young people feel negatively enough to say that "people like them" don't succeed in life.
UK youth unemployment is no doubt contributing to young people's impression of how hard it is to find rewarding careers. Nearly 70 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds think it will be hard to get a good job. Employers tell me they want, and need, to meet students from the broadest possible pool. Yet somehow employers are still struggling to find the right people to fill their roles. A report by the management consultants McKinsey found that less than half of employers find enough skilled candidates for their entry-level jobs.
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One vital step is to start to rebuild the confidence of our young people that there's a place for them in the world of work and help them develop the skills to get there.
At Bideford College, in North Devon, where more than 200 former students from a variety of professions – banking, teaching, IT, psychology, – have registered to stay connected with the college in a programme initiated by Future First. We harness the talent and expertise of former students, or alumni, and use it to develop students' confidence that they can find fulfilling work and equip them with the skills to do so.
Alumni networks have been effectively used by many private schools and universities for generations but, until now, have never before been embedded in the state sector.
We've found that former students are incredibly willing to help their old schools, with one poll indicating that more than ten million people in Britain would be willing to go back to talk about their own career pathways with today's students. But to date, they've not often been asked.
Since Future First began asking, more than 40,000 former students have already registered with us to support students at their old schools, whether that be as work experience providers, education and career role models, mentors and e-mentors or as donors, governors and fundraisers.
Our team run in-school events bringing alumni back to talk to current students. Year 11s at Lipson, the Co-operative Academy in Plymouth, recently met alumni from the fields of architecture, history and psychology and graduates from universities including Oxford, at a morning designed to raise student aspiration.
Teachers tell us how events like these inspire their students, how 75 per cent say they're motivated to work harder, how students' confidence and knowledge of the right steps to take is increased. All are key to getting onto the job ladder.
In the week beginning October 12, alumni nationwide will join in Future First's national campaign, Back to School Week, which will highlight the amazing benefits schools and colleges receive from their alumni and encourage more former students across the country to sign up.
I believe in today's students. We must help them believe in themselves. No-one should feel they don't move in the right circles, they have the wrong accent for a profession, they don't "fit in".
While it's imperative that the Government and businesses do more to create jobs and opportunities for young people, everyone has something to offer to combat this situation. We can all volunteer to share our experience with young people – good and bad – and help to make sure that the coming generations of school and college leavers are equipped with the confidence to believe that people like them do succeed.
Youngsters can take heart from one young boy at an inner city school who summed it all up perfectly for me. "You showed me," he said with quiet determination, "That if I focus I can achieve anything."
Future First's Back to School Week runs from October 12 to 19. Schools wishing to register with Future First should visit www.futurefirst.org.uk and click on the Schools And Colleges Staff link. Former students wishing to support their old school should click the Former Students link.