Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa shares how young people and social mobility can be at the forefront of the levelling up strategy.

We cannot level up the country without a focus on young people, especially those from less advantaged backgrounds and regions. It is their talent and energy which will fuel our post COVID recovery.

We were delighted therefore to see, in its latest State of the Nation’ report, that the Social Mobility Commission has called for increased investment in young people at every life stage, from early years to early careers.

It was also reassuring to see the report highlight the vital role employers will have in making this possible, especially in areas in need of levelling up. And the recommendation for employers to:

Widen your talent pool: Target schools and further education colleges in social mobility coldspots for outreach activity; recruit for skills and potential over qualifications and ‘polish’; move senior, professional roles and high-level apprenticeships into coldspots.

State of the Nation 2021: Social Mobility and the Pandemic; The Social Mobility Commission 

Our experience and research shows that creating workplace opportunities for young people is proven to enhance life outcomes, boost localised social mobility, and ensure that employers have the talent they need to succeed.

Yet this cannot be achieved in isolation. It is dependent on policy makers and employers working together to engage with young talent and create workplace opportunities.

In our report Career Ready at 18, carried out in partnership with Citi Group and Opinium, we highlighted three ways to achieve this, each one helping to level up young people in the cold spot regions we work in across the UK.

1. Employers investing in paid internships 

As our research showed, not only will this equip young people with the core skills they need in the workplace, with 63% reporting an increase in time management skills and 59% a boost in planning and organising skills, but it will help boost social mobility and level up areas across the UK.

It is crucial that we make it easier for employers to provide such support. In England, we are calling for the government to unlock the apprenticeship levy to give employers the flexibility to use it for pre-apprenticeship workplace activities such as paid internships.

2. Support SMEs so they can create local opportunities

We need to boost the capacity of SMEs to provide paid internships in coastal and market towns, where SMEs are the backbone of the local economy. SMEs can be drivers of localised social mobility opportunities, yet they are often unable to provide paid internships due to limited resources.

One solution is to enhance the power of LEP Networks to give SMEs the financial support they need to provide paid opportunities for young people. A further creative initiative is Internship Investment Partnerships which would see two businesses split the cost of the paid internship, with the young person spending time between the two organisations over a four-week period.

3. Mentoring across every organisation

Mentoring can be a catalyst for a young person’s growth, personally and professionally. That’s why we believe that every employer should provide mentoring opportunities to students at schools and colleges in their local area.

Moreover, it is imperative that mentoring via social mobility champions is embedded within the workplace. The challenge of social mobility is not solved as soon as someone secures their role within a company, as an individual’s background is often a limiting factor in their workplace progression.

We know from our own experiences and research that, not only are these recommendations an effective way of boosting social mobility and levelling up areas, but they can be easily scaled up with the support of employers, policy makers, and volunteers.

That’s why we urge you to join us in providing young people with the practical support and opportunities they need to succeed.

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