The system assumes that we’re ready to jump into a job and that we know exactly what that should be. Those at university at least have some time to work this out – to mature, join societies and create networks to help them move closer towards a career – but many finish higher education unsure of their immediate next steps. Unless you’re graduating in medicine, law or similar chances are there are several career pathways to take. How can we expect young people to make such monumental decisions with little or no life experience?
Worryingly, the Prince’s Trust’s Youth Index 2017 found that 36% of 16- to 25-year-olds do not feel in control of their job prospects, with that number jumping to 50% of young NEETs.
The government has at least realised that one size does not fit all when it comes to education and career pathways, and has pledged its commitment to apprenticeships and technical education, particularly following the Sainsbury Review. However, these mean that young people need to know at an even earlier age which job or sector they want to be trained for, potentially without much knowledge of their strengths or the long-term impact of their career choice.
This approach might be why – according to research by Oxford Open Learning Trust – almost half of 25- to 34-year-olds surveyed had already changed careers. And IPPR research has found that many apprentices already have qualifications at the level of their apprenticeship.
The government has committed to major reforms of technical education for 16 to 19s, and it was one of the few education policies mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. A ‘transition year’ was proposed in the Sainsbury Review, the government’s Building our Industrial Strategy green paper and the Post-16 Skills Plan. The purpose of this year would be to develop career plans and basic skills improvements including numeracy and literacy where needed.
All of this is a great step, and demonstrates a commitment from the government to improve career options for young people and ensure no-one drops out of education before the age of 18. However, this approach could go much further. A transition year where young people can have diverse experiences outside of their comfort zone, develop their skills, and explore career pathways previously not encountered through formal education would benefit them not just through extra specific skills training, but through character and personal development, which in turn would benefit the businesses and HR departments who eventually hire them.
Not only that but research consistently finds that younger Millennials and Generation Z are more interested in careers that make a difference to society over earning a large salary.
So why not take the transition year idea a step further and develop full-time experience of ‘voluntary national service’; deploying young people en masse to tackle some of our most pressing social issues while equipping them with the confidence, transferable skills and knowledge about the best career for them?
This approach would mean that businesses can hire fresh, young recruits with diverse life experience who are a strong asset to their companies. It would also foster social integration by bringing together young people from different backgrounds and educational levels and encouraging them to create common ground as they tackle community issues.
The government has launched an independent review into full-time volunteering, and I hope that the review’s chair Steve Holliday will look carefully at this idea.
There’s an opportunity for the review to be bold by recommending a new legal status and support for young people who undertake full-time voluntary service. Ministers should also consider how the apprenticeship levy could be used to create and support more volunteering opportunities for young people to give back and gain skills at the same time.
Promoting a transition year of service would give young people the chance to get to know themselves while making a difference in their communities, ensuring they’re ready to take on the challenges of further education and the world of work.
Sophie Livingstone is chief executive at City Year UK