Earlier this year, I was offered the opportunity to Chair the British Youth Council’s Youth Select Committee inquiry into barriers to work experience. The Committee is an initiative run by the British Youth Council with the support of the House of Commons. Every year 11 young people – aged 18 and under – meet to launch an inquiry into issues young people are passionate about. The opportunity to go from being a Year 12 student studying History and Politics, to working at the centre of our democracy is one I have found thrilling.
The barriers young people face in attaining experience and knowledge of the work-place are among the greatest issues facing today’s youth. Earlier this year, experts in the House of Commons Library released a briefing showing almost half a million young people aged 16-24 were unemployed. This is why work experience is such a vital topic that requires the youth voice to be heard.
During this year’s inquiry, the Committee discovered how essential work experience is, and how it has long been neglected. Following months of investigation and questioning leading experts from the worlds of business, politics and the charity sector, the Committee published an in-depth report with a multitude of recommendations to the Government.
The inquiry laid bare just how much change is needed. Our concerns were underpinned by the refusal of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to give evidence and the complete absence of work experience from the newly redesigned National Careers Service website. The NCS website is a key portal for careers information in England, but omits information for younger readers eager to gain experience in their desired career paths.
We believe that every student should have the ability to see the wide range of amazing opportunities and resources available to them. That is why we’re calling on the Government to dedicate a section of the National Careers Service website to work experience. The easiest way to ensure the website is appealing and accessible to young people is to involve young people themselves in developing and promoting this resource.
The current neglect of work experience isn’t just damaging from an economic perspective but detrimental in terms of equality. Blatant and ingrained inequality in accessing work experience reflects those in wider society. These are inequalities that will persist and stay with young people as they move into the workplace. Given our current skills shortages that are likely to be exacerbated by Brexit, we simply cannot afford to have certain sectors shut off to certain members of the population.
But the picture doesn’t have to be so bleak. As our report outlines, instead of deepening inequality, work experience is a tool we can use to alleviate it. Work-related learning must tackle career stereotypes at a primary school age, before these stereotypes become ingrained. Ambitious programmes in secondary schools and colleges must engage young people and encourage them to consider careers they might have once thought to be out of reach. This is even more crucial for disabled people, given the disturbing gap between those in work and those who want to be in work.
We believe that every student should have the right to experience the workplace. This is directly in the interests of the government’s push for technical education. That is why we’re calling on the Government to update the guidance to schools and colleges to include a “right to be offered” substantive work experience placements at aged 14-16: immediately before vital decisions on what educational path to pursue at 16+ are made..
Our report contains so many more recommendations, but we fundamentally believe every young person deserves the opportunity to maximise their potential. Work experience is the key to unlocking this potential.
My work on the Youth Select Committee this year has taught me so much, but more than anything it’s made clear the crucial role for young people in policy development. Even for those who don’t yet have the right to vote, the opportunity to contribute to these discussions at the heart of our democracy provides a much needed diversity of perspective.
Youth participation and the Youth Select Committee are needed now more than ever. The ‘youthquake’ illustrates youth participation is going in the right direction; it is vital this momentum continues. The Speaker of the House of Commons commented that this year’s report was an “invaluable contribution.” I can only hope the Government agrees as it considers its response to our recommendations.
Claudia Quinn is chair of the British Youth Council’s Youth Select Committee