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Dear Rishi – please make social mobility one of your priorities

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Dear Rishi – please make social mobility one of your priorities
Katie Gabriel against a light green background

By Katie Gabriel, Account Director, Corporate & Campaigns

At a time of political instability, underfunded public services and sky-high bills, we need policy ideas that inspire. Quick wins to sway public opinion just enough to win the next general election simply won’t cut it. We need innovative, forward-thinking solutions to our long-term challenges; solutions that help create growth, prosperity, and happiness. One of our most pressing challenges is ensuring we have a workforce equipped for the future and helping people meet their potential, regardless of their background. We are simply not doing enough.

Here’s an idea. How about mandatory work experience for all young people? It might not sound particularly radical to you. In fact, you would be forgiven for thinking it is already mandatory (I did). However, the Government scrapped the policy in 2012 as not enough young people were able to access it. State schools didn’t have the funding or resource to facilitate placements, and others were limited by geography. If you live in a rural or deprived part of the UK, perhaps there weren’t any employers you could visit, or maybe students couldn’t afford to travel further afield.

The Careers & Enterprise Company discovered that only 39% of schools in the UK organised work experience in the academic year of 2020/21 so the majority are going without.

Recently our client Speakers for Schools discovered that only a THIRD of people aged 18-30 in the UK can ever recall doing work experience during education. It is why they decided to launch a campaign, urging the government to give work experience to all state-educated young people in England.

Here’s why work experience for all could have an impact:

1. Work experience pays off… literally

Work experience can boost earning potential. The charity found that doing two placements at school could add over £2,000 to the average annual salary in your late twenties.  

2. Schools don’t need to shoulder the burden

But let’s not go back to the work experience of the past as clearly that did not work. Organisations like Speakers for Schools can relieve the bureaucracy and organisational burden on schools, matching students with exciting placements for free.

To support a national roll out and overcome the geographical barriers, some of the work experience should be delivered online, so any young person can access any employer. Interested in music? Apply to a placement with Spotify. Enjoy maths? Try a stint with the Bank of England.

There are third-party organisations that help pair young people with employers who match their interests and skill sets. They also work with employers and educators to design meaningful placements that vary in duration and content. So no more making cups of tea or learning how to photocopy.

3. Building a workforce for the future

Getting the top grades is of course important but they only really count until you come off the educational conveyor belt. To get a job and to progress, you need other skills. For me personally, school taught me to read, write and count, but I have honed those abilities at work. My job has also turbocharged my confidence, ability to present, engage, negotiate, lead, manage (and much more).

Young people need opportunities to gain these types of skills not only for their sake but because employers need them too, to ensure they are engaging with a broader pool of future talent based all over the country. Hosting work placements online suddenly means they can meet with passionate young people of all backgrounds, from all parts of the UK. The policy would improve diversity in the workplace as a result.

4. Plugging the workforce gaps

Finally, work experience could improve workforce shortages across critical sectors like healthcare, teaching and town planning, while helping the country prepare for the jobs of the future. It would give young people the opportunity to learn about jobs in these areas and offer a fast track to securing them.

Ultimately it is a relatively small policy idea but one with big potential. The Labour Party has already pledged to include two weeks’ work experience in its manifesto, and for the Conservatives, this could be the low hanging fruit it needs, aligning with Levelling Up agenda and Rishi’s own Kickstart scheme, while boosting productivity, easing workforce shortages and improving outcomes.

Who knows, by helping young people find a job and reach their potential, it may even win over those who will be voting for the first time in 2024 (or whenever the next General Election will be).

Read: Rishi Sunak is not my brother – the new Prime Minister and the “colour trap” by Mark Thorpe

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