We believe business, alongside schools and government, has a fundamental role to play in preventing young people being polarised into those who achieve success at school and beyond and those who do not, all as a result of their social background. This challenge is even more stark in the light of Covid-19: economic disparities could create a profoundly devasting and disproportionate impact on these young people.
We are members of The Youth Employment Group, made up of youth experts and led by Impetus, the Youth Futures Foundation, Prince’s Trust, Youth Employment UK and the IES. Together, we are focusing on the immediate and longer-term impacts on the employment prospects of young people, looking to tackle a reduction in job-losses in the immediate term as well as encouraging a healthy youth labour market post-lockdown.
To respond to the crisis, BITC has launched the National Business Emergency Response Network, a way to connect communities in desperate need of support with the companies which can supply it. This new platform has revealed that the clear needs emerging from the education community centre around two key areas; providing access to food and affordable access to technology and the internet so that young people could access learning.
We have been able to match some of the 860 requests for laptops with donations from businesses across our membership and have met multiple food requests with the support of national partnerships with FareShare and Neighbourly, funnelling business support to the communities and families that need it the most. However, currently demand for both needs is vastly outstripping supply – despite the new government programmes which are also attempting to meet it.
Recommendation: Businesses and government should work more closely with the third sector to enable donations of technology to the education sector.
The pandemic has starkly highlighted the difference in lived experiences of young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds – and how vulnerable this group is to the economic disruption already affecting our communities.
Before Covid-19, over 700,000 young people were not in employment, education or training (NEET). We are extremely concerned that this statistic has increased and will continue to do so as redundancies, redeployment and a recession take hold and as the closure of education outlets, youth clubs and children’s services begins to be felt.
Unfortunately, one of the most important factors to prevent a young person becoming NEET – positive qualification outcome – has also been impacted by Covid-19. Research by Impetus highlighted that young people with low qualifications are twice as likely to be NEET as those with five GCSEs (29% vs 15%), with the high-qualified experiencing the lowest NEET rates (8%). The opportunities for young people to realise these qualifications are smaller than ever as access to learning becomes more challenging, mental health issues increase and exam outcomes are determined through a combination of teacher assessment and mock exam results.
This could be particularly damaging for certain groups. We know that predicted grades at GCSE and A-Level are usually under-predicted for BAME pupils. BAME pupils annually out-perform what their teachers and schools predicted their grades would be year on year. When coupled with the fact that the impact of the 2008 recession was particularly bad for the BAME population, the long-term effects on this group are likely to be catastrophic.
We understand that crises require urgent decisions to be made. But we believe that, without proactively involving BAME employees and those with other protected characteristics in the critical decisions being made at this time, policymakers are sleepwalking into greater inequality.
Recommendation: The DfE should include colleagues with protected characteristics in the critical decisions made in response to COVID-19.
Recommendation: The DfE should analyse suggested grades for student by protected characteristic and/or socio-economic background to understand the impact on different cohorts and reduce the risk of bias.
A focus on qualifications alone is not enough mitigate against NEET rates. We need an education system that enables and encourages young people to not only achieve through attainment, but also provides access to build essential skills, enterprise and employability. This is the only way to ensure that all young people regardless of postcode or family income are able to build successful working lives.
To have a thriving society which mitigates against a widening of the disadvantage gap, we need skills that will support individuals as they go from school to work, from entry-level to management roles and from a career in one industry to a career in another.
BITC is part of a taskforce with Skills Builder Partnership, CIPD, CBI, Gatsby Foundation, EY Foundation and the Careers & Enterprise Company which has developed the Skills Builder Universal Framework. It defines the essential skills as: listening, speaking, problem solving, creativity, staying positive, aiming high, leadership and teamwork. The Skills Builder Framework helps us to tackle one of the key challenges of embedding essential skills: a confused and poorly defined landscape. By using this common language in policymaking, education, third sector organisations and businesses we will create a stronger workforce which is flexible and resilient to change; it is the foundation for developing new technical and job-specific skills.
Unfortunately, the last decade has seen a shift in the education system towards a knowledge-based curriculum which provides little time for supporting young people to access opportunities to develop their essential skills. This is in stark contrast to what many employers want in recruitment: 60% of businesses rate ‘essential skills’ as among their top three considerations when recruiting. Faced with an education system which does not afford parity of esteem to essential skills, companies have no choice but to place undue weight on academic qualifications. Given the fact that at age 5 alone the attainment gap is already at 17 percentage points, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are clearly at an enormous disadvantage.
The Apprenticeship Levy has a role to play in enabling young people to live up to their potential. As well as embedding the Skills Builder Framework within the Apprenticeship structure, the Government could give young people a greater chance to get into good work post-COVID by allowing companies to use the Levy funding for pre-apprenticeship training. Investment in independent advice and guidance could be the bridge which young people – especially those who are already disadvantaged – will need to mitigate the consequences of their disrupted education.
As the economic uncertainty of Covid-19 brings the importance of these skills into focus and as the UK responds and adapts to the crisis it is clear that recognising and developing essential skills will be central not only to our initial response but to our long-term recovery. For the many young people who are transitioning from education and training this summer into a newly uncertain and unstable job market, it will be more important than ever.
Recommendation: The Government must recognise and apply the same rigour to essential skills as they do to other parts of education
Recommendation: Businesses should use the Skills Builder Framework in their recruitment process and learning and development strategies.
Business in the Community is The Prince’s Responsible Business Network. With nearly 40 years’ experience, we are driven by a core membership of over 750 organisations from small enterprises to global corporations, who work through a collective strength as a force for good in society to;
● Create a skilled, inclusive workforce today and for the future
● Build thriving communities in which to live and work
● Innovate to repair and sustain our planet
Business in the Community’s flagship education programme Business Class supports business to build effective and sustainable partnerships with schools. Over 500 schools have been involved in Business Class, supported by 1,000 businesses (33% of whom are SMEs), impacting on over 350,000 young people across the UK. Crucially, our focus is on the schools most in need of support. Of the schools participating in Business Class, 80% of schools have an above average number of pupils eligible for free school meals; 57% are in the 30% most deprived areas of the country; and only 35% are achieving GCSE results above the national average.
Isabel Wilkinson, Head of Public Affairs and Policy,
 Business in the Community, Playing Fair: Guidance for Schools and Businesses Collaborating on Curriculum-Based projects, 2019
 Youth Jobs Gap- Establishing the Employment Gap, Impetus PEF, April 2019
 University and College Union, Predicted grades: accuracy and impact, December 2016
 Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Poverty across ethnic groups through recession and austerity, 2015
 CBI/Pearson, Education and Learning for the Modern World, 2019
 Social Mobility Commission, State of the Nation 2018-19: Social Mobility in Great Britain, 2019