26th March 2018

Growing up North: The role of employers

Author: Paul Carbert, North East Local Enterprise Partnership

A survey of North East England Chamber of Commerce members in 2015 found that two-thirds believe that schools are not effective at preparing young people for work. One of our key challenges is to improve the careers advice that young people in the North East receive, so that they are aware of the job opportunities locally and are supported to follow the right pathways into work.

Since that survey in 2015, significant progress has been made in the North East. The biggest change has been wider understanding and adoption of the Gatsby benchmarks – a set of standards that can be used by schools to judge the effectiveness of their careers offering.

The role for employers is clearly identified in several of the benchmarks. Benchmark 5 is about giving every pupil the opportunity for school-based encounters with employers and employees, for example through a speaker visiting the school are a mentoring scheme; and Benchmark 6 is about offering all young people first-hand work experience by the age of 18.

In September 2015, the Gatsby Foundation provided funding for the North East LEP to test the implementation of the benchmarks in 13 schools and three FE Colleges in the North East. The two-year pilot, co-ordinated by Ryan Gibson, began with all of the schools and colleges undertaking an audit to mark their performance against the benchmarks.

At the start of the pilot, half of the schools and colleges taking part fully achieved none of the benchmarks. After two years of hard work and support from the North East LEP, over 85% now reach between six and eight benchmarks. This places them among the very best in the country.

After consistent lobbying from the Chamber, North East LEP and others, the Government has acknowledged the importance of improving careers advice through the use of the Gatsby benchmarks.

The new Careers Strategy published in December 2017, and updated statutory guidance for schools published on 5 January 2018, includes a requirement for schools to start using the Gatsby Benchmarks with an aim to meet them all by the end of 2020. All schools are also required to appoint a Careers Leader and publish details of their careers programme from September 2018.

The Chamber has been a strong supporter of the benchmarks, and we have a number of ongoing campaigns to help facilitate greater interaction between businesses and schools.

This year we are planning three Linking Business with Education events, to provide an opportunity for business and school leaders to network and hear about best practice in the region.

In partnership with Nifco UK, we have developed resources for schools featuring career opportunities in growing the growing sectors of the North East economy. Our “Great Reasons to Build Your Career in North East England” resources are available to download on the Chamber website, and members can get involved by providing case studies.

We have also backed member initiatives to get business leaders and young employees into schools, including the Darlington Foundation for Jobs and County Durham-based Esh Group’s Building My Skills. Through Building My Skills, we are on target to achieve 30,000 learner hours of activity delivered by Chamber members in North East schools in the 2017/18 academic year – a huge achievement, but one we are determined to continue to grow.

We have an excellent opportunity to shape the future direction of careers guidance across the country, and should be proud of the progress already made by North East schools.

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