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Building the skills of the next generation

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By 2015, Barclays aims to help one million young people become employable by connecting them with work experience opportunities through its LifeSkills programme. Kirstie Mackey shares details with Mary Appleton.

Young talent in the workforce

In its Youth Barometer research of 2,000 14-25 year olds, Barclays found that 72% did not believe they would achieve their career ambitions while 28% felt they did not have the right connections to succeed. “This is an issue we have to address,” says Kirstie Mackey, head of the LifeSkills team at Barclays. “The more interactions a young person has with employers at school, the less likely they are to become NEET (not in employment, education or training),” she adds.

Developing employability skills

Launched in May 2013, LifeSkills follows Barclays’ Apprenticeship and Moneyskills programmes – initially aimed at educating youngsters on financial planning. Designed to reach 11-19 year olds, LifeSkills – endorsed by City & Guilds and comprising modules in people, work and money – is delivered by teachers in schools or at workshops run by Barclays volunteers. Students can also access resources via the LifeSkills website, where they accumulate ‘points’ for completing each of the three modules. Teachers can then match students to local work experience placements. To date, more than 5,865 teachers (or those who work with young people) have registered. They expect to reach over 1 million young people, and over 4,500 schools and other education institutions are signed up.

Removing barriers to employment

Barclays found that nine out of 10 teachers believe work experience should be mandatory – but they struggle to find opportunities for students. Since LifeSkills launched, Barclays has made available more than 6,300 work experience placements of one day to two weeks’ duration – the shorter placements are considered less daunting for some young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

As well as promoting its own work experience openings, Barclays has encouraged other employers to advertise placements through the LifeSkills portal. More than 844 have signed up, including McDonald’s, Unilever and Hilton. LifeSkills is also partnering with charities to connect with NEETs. “Even if we had the most successful schools programme, we wouldn’t reach everyone,” says Mackey.

Connecting business & young people

Keeping a finger on the pulse of what end users want is important. In July 2013, the bank responded to teachers’ requests to extend the programme to 16-19 year olds. There are also plans to develop ‘bitesize’ modules to be delivered during tutorial times. When asked about work experience, 77% of decisionmakers in SMEs said they would be more likely to offer placements to young people who had employability training. They also highlighted concerns over health and safety, legislation and what to include in the placement. 

“SMEs don’t have big HR teams to scope out an appropriate work experience programme, so we’ve created practical guides to help,” says Mackey. As well as getting feedback from end users, the bank asked customers how they felt it might be changed by the initiative. “All of our customer groups agreed we should help connect business and young people,” she adds.

Beyond the CSR agenda

Some 11,688 Barclays employees have registered as volunteers and 350 workshops have been delivered, with 300 more scheduled. Employees can sign up via the company’s intranet, while Barclays’ corporate relationship managers are encouraged to ask their clients to post opportunities on the portal.

“Volunteers see the difference they make. This isn’t just painting a fence or doing some gardening, it’s providing practical help for young people,” says Mackey. Many of the bank’s employees are parents who take an interest in CV and interview guidance. But Mackey believes the business case is clear. “Staff understand how this will benefit our business – it’s about our future workforce,” she says, adding that she has the support of Ashok Vaswani (CEO of the retail & business bank) and Barclays’ chief executive Anthony Jenkins. “When I pitched the idea in September 2012, I got budget and a team secured in the same month,” she reveals.

She credits the work of Barclays’ HR team on its apprenticeship scheme, which she believes educated the business on the benefits of recruiting young people. “It’s no good waiting 10 years and finding you don’t have the skills. We have to make the investment now,” she says.

Building confidence & looking to the future

Mackey believes employers have a key role to play in raising young people’s aspirations and confidence. She explains: “Often when you ask a young person what skills they have, they say ‘none’. But when you dig deeper, you unearth valuable talents. Someone might be a football team captain, for example, which shows leadership skills.

“It’s our responsibility to bring out their confidence and help them translate their skills to business.” So far, LifeSkills has reached over 338,000 young people. While Mackey admits that the goal of reaching one million by 2015 is ‘big and ambitious’, she believes that when schools begin reporting on destination data (from September 2014), numbers will increase. “Teachers will need to show they are doing something on this,” she says. She wants to see employability skills training become a key part of the curriculum and suggests that the government could play a crucial role in creating a quality mark for employability and work experience programmes. She proposes that a passport or pathway for young people to complete – involving work experience and practical workplace exposure – would be useful.

“If you don’t leave school with good GCSEs, it doesn’t mean you’re not trying or don’t want to succeed,” she says. “If a young person can say ‘this has made me more work ready’, employers will value this highly,” she concludes.

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Changeboard

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

Changeboard

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