upReach at Labour conference: what needs to be done to help disadvantaged young people access good jobs?

upReach joined TwentyTwenty, Impetus-PEF and experts from politics and the professions at Labour conference earlier this week to discuss what the party needs to do to ensure fair access to good jobs.

John Craven, CEO of upReach, Sarah Webster, Chair of TwentyTwenty, and Maria Neophytou, Director of Public Affairs at Impetus-PEF were joined by Stephen Kinnock MP, Joe Dromey, IPPR lead on employment and skills, Jenny Baskerville, KPMG Social Mobility Lead  and upReach Associate Fatima Benkhaled to discuss the party’s approach to social mobility.

The panel, titled ‘How can Labour ensure disadvantaged young people have a fair chance to secure good jobs?’, explored some of Labour’s manifesto commitments regarding social mobility and what it would need to do next to ensure its commitment to a more socially just labour market were maintained.

The panel began with insight from Fatima Benkhaled, who shared her journey from undergraduate support from upReach to an internship at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. She cited such interventions as being essential to her success.

John Craven, CEO of upReach, noted that poor social mobility in the UK is due to a deep employability skills gap, not just the attainment gap and difference in university participation.

The employability skills gap is largely due to disadvantaged students having less access to extra-curricular activities and quality careers guidance, and lacking the professional network that enables them to learn about different careers and  gain early work experience opportunities.
The panel was asked to consider three policies Labour should adopt to tackle this crisis.
John Craven suggested:
  1.  A need to fund more extra-curricular activities and quality careers advice in schools, and ensure headteachers focus on it by making Ofsted closely monitor provision, and including output/outcome measures in school league tables.
  2. To fund activities by imposing a £300m pension levy on private schools, whose teachers currently benefit from a subsidised government guaranteed pension – despite a net 2,000 teachers leaving the state sector to teach privately every year.
  3. If tuition fees are abolished, a need to ensure universities don’t lose the funding they currently get to spend on widening participation.

Stephen Kinnock MP suggested ‘Dialogue’, ‘Devolution’, and ‘Delivering a common sense Brexit’:

  1. Dialogue: A cross-Party commitment to letting the Institute for apprenticeships and technical education; And instituting workers representatives on company boards, ensuring proper feed in from the shop floor to the boardroom and beyond around what skills are required, where and when. 
  2. Devolve: For dialogue to work it must be held at a local and regional level. That means:
    • LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships) must be empowered and resourced to assess the local supply and demand for skills. 
    • Empowering new metropolitan mayors to enable a targeted strategy for adult education at local and regional level.
  3. Deliver: a sensible and pragmatic Brexit – You can have the best technical education system in the world, but if your economy is in turmoil, manufacturing is decimated; so the EEA based transition deal is, therefore, pivotal. 

Sarah Webster suggested, from TwentyTwenty’s perspective:

  1. To protect funding for schools and ensure that disadvantaged young people from poorer backgrounds have access to coaching, mentors and counselling;
  2. To improve the esteem of careers advice as a respected professional job and that
  3. The need for a comparable ‘apprenticeship premium’ or additional funding available through 

Jenny Baskerville, from the perspective of Social Mobility Lead at KPMG, noted that KPMG had made progress by using data to measure the composition of their workforce and assess the impact of interventions; extending to regional coldspots; and  collaboration with organisations devoted to fair access. She suggested three key areas that needed greater focus:

  1. Skills gap: ensuring parents and teachers, and all key influencers, promote high quality apprenticeships as alternative pathway to university
  2. Regional disadvantage: All sectors collaborating further to help raise educational outcomes and job prospects in social mobility coldspots. For example, large businesses collaborating with SMEs to deliver work related learning
  3. Progression and lifelong learning: Not just to focus on getting disadvantaged young people in to professions, but about getting on too – businesses ought to ensure social-economic diversity is part of wider inclusion agenda

Joe Dromey of IPPR focused on improving the apprenticeship system, namely:

  1. A re-focus on young people for apprenticeships – last year, only 25% of apprenticeships were aged 18 or below; and only half were under 25.
  2.  Currently, young low-income people are not taking up apprenticeships – just 10% went to those on free school means. To look at better pre-apprenticeship support for young people, and an apprenticeship premium which offers employers additional funding for recruiting apprentices from poorer backgrounds. Regional re-balancing is also vital
  3. An urgent re-focus on the quality of apprenticeships – adults taking level 3 and 4 courses has fallen by nearly 40%, particularly since the scandal of Learndirect.

Overarching themes from the panel suggested a need for greater educational funding from early years upwards; a need for greater regional reach; a necessity for collaboration between sectors and organisations; and greater focus on improving apprenticeships and adult learning were all vital for the progress of young people entering top professions.

upReach will work to advocate for policy change in the future that benefits young people achieving their potential, working with organisations, MPs and experts to ensure the best policies are taken forward to strengthen careers advice, funding and ultimately greater outcomes for schools, universities and employers.

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