New programme gives disadvantaged youths access to green-economy employers

A new initiative is helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds meet employers from innovative sectors, including low-carbon, tech, and advanced manufacturing businesses

A new project could help tackle the UK’s employment crisis for disadvantaged youths, who account for 47% of young people without jobs. Focusing on Birmingham, where the proportion of disadvantaged youths not in employment is twice as high as anywhere else in the West Midlands, the initiative connects young people to local employers to help them enter the industries of tomorrow.

Helping disadvantaged youths into employment

Ahead Partnership, a social enterprise connecting employers with education and private and public sector partners, launched the 18-month project to aid 8,000 local school-leavers who are not in employment, education or training.

John Lewis Partnership Community Investment Fund supports the initiative, where young people will be advised about career opportunities in the region with a “specific focus on emerging jobs and sectors that are set to see particular growth over the next two decades,” according to a shared statement.

The project will operate in-line with current COVID-19 restrictions, where Ahead Partnership will prepare and deliver the programme digitally, which will include “face-to-face careers and skills activities.”

Key to the programme’s success will be the role of volunteers, who represent local employers. Representatives of businesses in the “low carbon, health, technology, and advanced manufacturing” sectors will host skills-building workshops, 1-2-1 interview practise, and networking sessions. There will also be speaking engagements and opportunities for school-leavers to undertake work experience.

This programme follows six years of community work for Ahead Partnership, where they have helped 13,000 young people and worked with over 100 employers in Birmingham so far.

The programme has also fostered high levels of engagement with volunteers, where 94% said they would recommend taking part to others, which bodes well for local businesses, who are more engaged in social impact, and for young people who now have a better chance of gaining employment in their desired sector.

Speaking about the project, Stephanie Burras CBE, chief executive at Ahead Partnership, said: “We’re proud to be providing these much-needed employer-led opportunities for young people across Birmingham at this time, so the support from the John Lewis Partnership is very welcome. We’re looking forward to teaming up with dedicated local employers to play a key role in tackling regional challenges, promoting opportunities, and inspiring confidence in the community.

“Young people are facing incredibly difficult circumstances, and the pandemic is only exacerbating the challenges faced by young people. It is vital that the business community works together to do everything that we can to encourage young people to consider areas where there will be opportunities, and equip them with the skills and confidence to overcome potential barriers to their future and succeed.”

Youth unemployment in the UK

Government papers from this year showed that COVID-19 has negatively impacted employment levels for people aged 16-24. Comparing the last quarter of 2020 with the “pre-pandemic quarter of January-March 2020”, it grew by 13%, where young men were 72% more likely to be unemployed than women.

For those who were employed last year, nearly two million young people “were furloughed at some point between March and the end of July.” These statistics make initiatives such as Ahead Partnership crucial to bridging the employment gap young people face, especially considering that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds will have even less access to employment opportunities and industry contacts.

Young people and the green economy

The programme’s focus on introducing disadvantaged youths to employers in emerging sectors is important as the government introduced a £12 billion plan to stimulate a “green industrial revolution” last year.

Investment in the UK’s green economy is expected to create 250,000 jobs and encourage “significant private sector investments” as part of the country’s 2050 net-zero goal; making the inclusion of employers from this sector a vital component of Ahead Partnership’s offering for disadvantaged youth in Birmingham, where there should be more programmes like it nationally.

For this group of school leavers, entering the green economy could be a sustainable choice both economically and socially as the industry was worth £46.7 billion in 2018, and with climatic necessity and the country’s net-zero goal drawing ever closer, it will surely only grow in value and influence.
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