Jenny Fitzgerald is Head of Operations at Enabling Enterprise and before this role worked in management consultancy for five years. Here, she responds to the latest report by The City Growth Commission on young people ’staying local’ when making choices about their careers.

This week the City Growth Commission published a report asking graduates to “stay local”, starting their careers in the cities that supported them through their undergraduate programmes. Could graduates staying put and not being drawn to London or abroad be the key to regenerating the UK’s smaller cities?

The challenge of staying local

Indeed, the challenge of “staying local” is one that can be extended beyond university graduates to all young people starting in the world of work. Earlier this year we heard that the gap between London and other cities in the UK was widening, with 10 times more jobs created in London than any other UK city. Long has London been blamed for draining other cities of young talent, and with good reason – out of every three young people looking to move city within the UK in 2012, one chose London.

For most of us considering that decision for ourselves or our children, the focus is not on the importance of building the economy of our home towns but on what’s best for our own future. On one hand we look for a job that challenges us, rewards us, and gives us a (hopefully) secure future. On the other, we think of the quality of life that comes with affordable living, enough time for ourselves, and proximity to friends, family, and often the community we’ve grown up in.

Certainly there are huge variations in the number of jobs available – the odds of getting a job are much higher in many South East towns, with London, Reading and Milton Keynes having fewer than 3 jobseekers for every job offered, compared to towns like Hull, Sunderland and The Wirral averaging over 38.

However it’s rarely that simple – as few people are interested in, or indeed qualified for, every job that’s on offer. Cities like Aberdeen and Cambridge have more than one vacancy per unemployed resident, for example, but with Aberdeen’s strong concentration of jobs in energy and construction, and Cambridge’s heavy science and technology focus, they do not hold the widespread appeal of somewhere like London.

Our politicians speak of broadening horizons, helping young people to look beyond the jobs of their parents to tackle the challenge of limited social mobility. However in towns where one industry, or even one employer, is king, is it possible we are dissuading our young people from taking up the jobs that allow them to contribute to their home town’s economy, and that might give them the chance of a better standard of living and a closer proximity to their family and friends. Worse still, many young people’s lack of understanding of local opportunities makes it even more likely they will leave school or university and want to start their careers elsewhere.

Addressing this challenge

How can we address the challenge of giving young people the skills and knowledge they need to make a choice which is right for them, either taking up great local opportunities or exploring new cities in jobs not available closer to home?
Young people need the opportunity to learn much more about the jobs that are likely to be available in the future in their local communities, long before the day they apply for their first job in the place they want to start their career.

The best way for this to happen is through closer links in school, college and university with local employers, large and small. Students need to learn not just what organisations exist, but what jobs exist within those organisations and what skills are needed to succeed in those jobs. Local employers are undoubtedly the best placed to help our young people do this, even if they are not their ultimate destination. Only by connecting real life opportunities with the skills and activities young people already know can we expect them to feel genuinely motivated about working anywhere, and to stretch themselves to learn the skills and knowledge required for their future.

Of course, exposure to those local employers will need to be in the context of the wider workplace. In a world where 75% of 11-16 year olds go online every day and the EU free movement of labour is in the news almost daily, we cannot prevent young people considering life outside their local community, and nor should we want to. Many will find a fulfilling career takes them around the country, or even around the world if that’s the right thing for them.

Enterprise and young people

Organisations like Enabling Enterprise give students exposure to local employers on school trips with practical hands-on projects. Young people can work together with volunteers from a host employer to understand more about what they do in their job and what skills and qualifications they needed to get there. They then also learn about examples from the wider world of work back in the classroom, undertaking projects that build skills common to many jobs like resilience, communication, and teamwork.

Students can spend time building their awareness of jobs and careers available locally and further afield throughout their time at school. That way we can hope that the next generation will make their choice in an informed way, having recognised the wealth of different opportunities in their local communities early on in their lives, early enough to motivate them to achieve the grades or build the skills needed for those opportunities.

Moving to Aberdeen, Cambridge, London, or New York may be the second step in a young person’s career ladder, but finding inspiration locally should be the first.

If you’d like to find out more about embedding enterprise into your school curriculum or supporting Enabling Enteprise through hosting trips to your business, contact us.

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