Inspiring approaches to careers education - preparing students for post-pandemic careers

Our team is thrilled to have launched its brand-new partnership with SPARK. It’s a partnership which is helping our careers education adapt to an era of remote and virtual learning. What’s more, it gives us a resource library at students’ disposal to help them understand career options, routes into work, and develop their employability - even outside of the classroom; all the while providing teachers with vital data on the interests of students, and even follow-up data to help track employment among school leavers.

Just like everyone else in the education sector, we’ve undergone some drastic overhauls in terms of delivery. While there will eventually be chances for in-person events in the future, for now, our feet are firmly planted in the digital arena.

These changes are made even more poignant with 2021 being The Skills Service’s tenth anniversary. In that time we’ve constantly evolved to meet the needs of businesses, educators, and young people, but in our tenth year, we are embarking on a new way of working.

A lot has happened since 2011, and the skills requirements for businesses has shifted dramatically towards a blend of technical, creative, and digital skillsets – and we certainly need all three in the mix to get the most of our workforce, and the products and services they develop.

Change from the top

The government has even adapted its approach, as outlines in a white paper released in January - Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth.

In an economy disrupted by digitisation it's imperative there are plenty of opportunities to upskill staff on a technical level to increase productivity and innovation, but also to provide the workforce with greater job security.

It's worth noting that the paper allows for much more autonomy among workers to develop their skillsets and gives employers more opportunities to shape the curriculum in partnership with education providers, particularly around apprenticeship and T-Levels.

The ‘Lifelong Loan Entitlement’ from 2025 will provide the equivalent of four years of post-18 education funding to make it “just as easy to get a loan for a higher technical course as it is for a full-length university degree.” A marked departure from the focus on academic pursuits.

Involving employers will be critical to bridging the technical skills gaps facing industry at national levels. In a fast-paced environment, we can remain adaptive, so we give young people much more meaningful workplace experiences whilst they’re in education, and when they enter the jobs market.

Improving youth employment begins in schools

Of course, the big challenge that’s emerged over the last year is youth employment. Gaining work experience whilst you’re still in education can drastically improve your chances of finding work after the age of 16. Programmes such as Kickstart – which provides funding for work placements for people aged 16-24 who are NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) should also help tackle this growing challenge. Even before this though, employer engagement through careers education in schools can reduce the chances of becoming NEET by 25%.

There’s so much changing in industry, and the best way to prepare students is to hear about it straight from the source, especially from the fast-paced digital and tech innovators, and the emerging sustainability sector.

It's as much about the careers education in schools as it is about support for school leavers. The pandemic has narrowed the entry level jobs market, particularly in hospitality, retail and leisure industry which usually provide ample opportunities for young people. The Skills Service has been partnering with Youth Employment UK for some time to collaborate with educators, employers, and support providers to create a better safety net for young people so they can develop their skillsets, find employment, and stay in employment after they leave the education system.

Supporting the curriculum and outcomes

Research by Education and Employers has shown that employer engagement with students helps improve motivation and attainment. Even if interactions can’t happen in person, providers are migrating experiences online, and so has The Skills Service.

It may take some time for work experience to get back to being in-person, but some businesses have put in workarounds so that students can still gain a vital introduction to the working world, and with virtual reality and augmented reality become more mainstream, there are whole new avenues we can explore to get students ready for work.

Even institutions like the BBC and our partner SPARK are broadening horizons, making educational resources freely available for students, and providing vital data for educators.

Our step-change into digital has certainly broadened our own aspirations, and The Skills Service has a national reach with our new Inspire series which has even reached Scotland.

Inspire focuses on the ‘Future Workforce' across six key strands - technology; creativity; sustainability; careers; construction; and digital innovation.

Each strand involves key partners from business and the community, who help set real-world challenges, project ideas, and activities. It’s a fantastic way for students to do creative problem solving and consider the impact they could make.

Our first challenges have already launched. CityFibre is sponsoring our ‘Inspire Your City’ challenge where students use the power of gigabit internet connectivity to create new products and services. We’ve had everything from medical wristbands, solar powered bin lorries, fast food drone deliveries and much more thrown into the mix! As an added incentive, there are even some prizes up for grabs for the best ideas!

We have also launched the 'Business Sustainability' challenge in association with Peterborough Environmental City Trust, taken on a podcast challenge with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, and taken a deep dive into higher education opportunities with NEACO. We’ve got plenty more lined up too!

With local employers directly feeding into each challenge we can improve community engagement, spark interest in different professions and emerging technical fields which are relevant to the local jobs market and align with local industry strengths to improve young people’s chance of finding work.

The need for soft skills

There’s huge pressure on mental health and a bigger demand for resilience to cope with huge changes not just to you but your family and friends as well. With increased competition for jobs, you’re less likely to get feedback on applications and interviews, networking is almost all online, and it’s even more difficult to get your foot in the door.

The Skills Service is creating support materials and activities that can address some of these confidence, motivation, and social challenges which face young people.

Our enterprise activities encourage team working to improve communication and resilience. Events like CV workshops and mock interviews also give vital feedback on young people’s strengths and how they can pitch themselves effectively to prospective employers on paper and in person.

We are working with a number of other organisations to support young people, such as Youth Employment UK to improve outcomes for young people, Speaker for Schools to explore delivering work experience online, Spark to deliver our careers and enterprise activities online, and STEM Point East to improve access to employers and career options.

It's important we continue to offer a range of careers activities, so students have multiple opportunities to interact with employers and gain real-world experience. As a brokerage service we’ll always be talking to businesses, educators, and training providers to make the most of new opportunities in the jobs market, address emerging challenges head on, and ultimately, improve outcomes for students and employers.

If you’d like to work with us to support your careers education, please get in touch.

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