Jenny Fitzgerald recently joined Enabling Enterprise as Head of Operations after five years at a management consultancy. Here she reflects on what she has learned about employability and the world of work.

The Challenge

It is an accepted truth that we continue to fail young people growing up in low income households. We see little improvement in the number of NEETs, a continued gap of minority groups reaching our top universities, and a corresponding absence of young people from poor backgrounds reaching highly paid jobs.

But we are already giving schools in our most deprived areas extra funding through the Pupil Premium. We are incentivising universities to admit more students from poorer backgrounds into their chosen degree. We are removing prejudices to give those children the best possible chance in their chosen business. Apprenticeships will now give more young people a chance to gain qualifications in their chosen profession. Plus of course cutting benefits will lend an urgency to the situation.

My question is, at what point is that child or young adult really in a position to make that choice in the first place?

The Job for You

Someone once told me that the right job for me would meet three criteria: I would be good at it, someone would be prepared to pay me for it, and I’d enjoy it. It sounds simple, but in fact finding a job that met all three of those criteria for me meant looking at a lot of different jobs. While I was in education, at school and at university, the closest I got to understanding a job was a teacher with a pile of leaflets from the biggest employers in the UK. I can tell you there’s not much you can learn from a leaflet.

With an education from one of the best schools and universities in the UK, a young person is likely to have high levels of ambition, drive and self-belief. However they are unlikely to know and understand many jobs suited to that ambition beyond those of their immediate peer group and family. One of our most privileged young people may know a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a banker, and maybe a civil servant. The Big 4 accounting firms will probably also come and present to them at university so they’ll know that about that option too. And maybe one other business big enough like Proctor and Gamble. The “biggest recruiters”. Seven career options. If that young person doesn’t like working with numbers, that’s four.

What else is out there?

Of course there are many jobs within each of these professions, but we must admit they are hardly an exhaustive list. How is a young person ever supposed to discover they’re destined to work in trading at a supermarket chain, in advertising for soft drinks, in product design for an energy company, or in charity fundraising? They might be one of the few young people who take a risk and work in an industry and department they don’t feel familiar with, or they might just follow the crowd into a job they never felt they really wanted.

An interesting exercise would be to correlate the job satisfaction of all those career paths, the seven most people can think of, and the hundreds they can’t, and the number of applications received for those jobs. I’d be willing to bet we’d find those seven don’t deserve half of the attention they get, because so many young people never manage to find the right job, as they don’t even know it exists.

Now consider the consequences of this for someone whose parents don’t work, or if they do they work for the biggest factory in their town with all the other parents – someone who doesn’t have that ambition, drive and self-belief engrained in them. Imagine how hard it is for that young person to find their perfect job, or any drive to do any better than their parents or their friends. Aspirations are contingent on an end goal that a young person knows really exists, not an unachievable goal of becoming a football player, only to later give up on a satisfying career.

What can be done?

Our education system has become more and more focused on skills and qualifications, academics and apprenticeships, without ever really giving our young people the chance to understand what’s really out there and choose what’s right for them. Cutting NEET benefits might be the stick, but right now there’s no carrot.

Early on in their lives, before it’s too late, children need exposure to what jobs are really out there. The more they can understand the different activities companies do, the types of people they employ, and the lives they enable their employees to lead, the more they can answer those three important criteria. Some school projects should be based on enterprise education which reference real companies and their activities. Even exposure to one company in an industry would provide a child with a memorable experience of different types of company, departments, and roles.

Organisations like Enabling Enterprise are trying to put this right. By bringing business into the classroom and taking children into businesses to understand what they do and how they work, they build an understanding of what people outside a child’s own circle of friends and family do for a living. In doing so they expand everyone’s horizons, whatever their background; and they level the playing field between the most privileged and the least. That understanding is the first step in finding a future job that they will be good at, that they can get excited about, that is worth striving for.

Then we give them the best possible chance to be making the right choice.

Support Us

Enabling Enterprise has been short-listed for the Lloyds Bank and School for Social Entrepreneurs Social Enterprise of the Year Award. You can support them, and help them win £10,000 to support their work by voting via:

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