The forecast recession looks likely to hit young people the hardest, but investing in their skills is key to recovery. Neil Bentley-Gockmann sets out three ways his organisation is leading the charge

It is an understatement to say that these are tough and uncertain times for us all. And for young people looking to get their first step on the career ladder, the outlook is particularly challenging. Many have had their education and training unavoidably disrupted at a point in their lives when they should be finding their feet, working out what to do next and thinking about their career direction.

However, we know that crucial to rebuilding the UK economy will be highly skilled, motivated young people. That is why, alongside working to attract more inward investment by tackling slow productivity growth, adopting new technology and plugging our skills gaps, we must stay focused on supporting the next generation so that they can play an active role in our economic recovery and see a better future.  

We should reset the dialogue on the importance of skills for the recovery

The government is working hard to protect employment against the COVID-19 crisis, but a recession is forecast and research reports this month from The Learning and Work Institute, The Resolution Foundation and Youth Futures Foundation have shown that its impacts will affect young people disproportionately. This analysis has helped us focus on three ways that we can best help to support nearly 200,000 young women and men in the coming months.

Firstly, we are increasing our online support for thousands of young people who are going through our national and international skills competitions’ training programmes. We will continue to develop their skillset and mindset to the highest possible levels so they can build their confidence and potential. Working with our National Competition partners, we will deliver online assessments to help students and apprentices compete virtually in our skills competitions to enhance their current training.  We are delivering remote training to our Squad UK members who are preparing for international competition.  By delivering our training programmes online, we are ensuring young people can continue to develop their skillset and mindset to the highest possible levels so they can build their confidence and potential.   

Secondly, we are increasing our online careers advice and guidance for thousands of young people not yet in work – who are in school or college – to help them make more informed choices about their next steps.  We are aiming to engage 35,000 students through our toolkits and will be targeting resources at schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas to ensure we are engaging those who are hardest to reach. By deploying more online careers advice models – our alumni network of highly skilled individuals, who have achieved success in their careers, we will be increasing our efforts to encourage young women and men to make career choices that challenge gender stereotypes, and support more young people who are BAME, identify as LGBT+ or have a learning disability to take up apprenticeships and technical career routes. 

Thirdly, we are drawing on the expertise of our established network of 1900 partners across the UK – including hundreds of colleges, training providers and employers, sector skills bodies and organisations like NCFE, National Careers Service, Youth Employment UK, Education and Employers and the Careers & Enterprise Company – to ensure our outreach has maximum impact. And together we will continue to explore ways to power the development of a world-leading technical education sector through global benchmarking and bringing international best practice back to the UK. Through the new WorldSkills UK Centre of Excellence, in partnership with NCFE, we will work with college partners to help mainstream world-class standards in skills development to help thousands of young people achieve higher standards and boost their potential.

As the public health and economic context evolves, we will work with our partners to prepare for a skills-led recovery and the development of a “skills economy” which rightly values high-quality apprenticeships and technical education routes for all young people. The significance of workers in public and other essential services – many of whom are trained in our skills system – is shining a bright light on the value of skilled work. And as we all adapt to new ways of living and working, we should hit the control-alt-delete buttons to help us reset the dialogue on the importance of skills for the recovery, the country and the future of the next generation.

The young people we support today with advice, knowledge and skills, will be the workforce of tomorrow helping employers lead the charge towards recovery and economic growth for the prosperity of all. That’s why investing in young people now is crucial. Because when young people succeed, we all succeed.