Employers: Learning to Work or more still to learn?

By Annie Peate, CIPD Campaigns and Policy Officer, @AnniePeate

We’ve been busy celebrating at the CIPD. On 23 July we hosted an evening reception at City Hall in London to celebrate the Learning to Work programme’s second birthday. As well as being joined by special guests, Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Personal and Corporate Banking at Barclays, and CIPD’s Chief Executive, Peter Cheese, we were delighted to see so many of the employers, policy makers, senior HR professionals, youth organisations and volunteers who have supported and contributed to Learning to Work over the last two years.

The CIPD launched Learning to Work in May 2012 – a time when youth unemployment had tipped the one million mark - to change employer attitudes and behaviours towards young people in a bid to reduce youth unemployment, and to help organisations get ‘back in the habit’ of engaging with young people once more. The ultimate aim of the Learning to Work programme is to help employers to increase and improve their engagement with young people in two key ways – firstly by helping make their workplaces more youth friendly, and secondly by helping prepare young people for work. Two years later and the CIPD is successfully driving and supporting employers to play a key role in preparing, recruiting and developing tomorrow’s workforce.

Birthdays are of course an opportunity to celebrate and look towards the future; however, they are also a time to look back and take stock. For us, that means examining the progress that has been made by employers in the youth employment space over the last few years, shining a light on the schemes, projects and initiatives which have successfully brought young people into workplaces across the UK, and reflecting on the work which still needs to be done.
So, two years on, are we celebrating or commiserating?

As we’ve already said, Learning to Work  encourages employers to increase their engagement with young people by helping to prepare them for work. For a growing number of young people, making the all important transition from education to employment can be challenging, with a bewildering array of career options, limited access to career information, advice and guidance, and little or no work experience. Encouragingly, 35% of employers are now engaging with local schools and colleges in a number of ways, including visit school assemblies to talk about their workplace or job and exhibiting at open days. Programmes like Inspiring the Future [link], who the CIPD partnered with in 2012, provide another effective way of volunteering with young people without bombarding schools with individual requests. To date, 13,000 volunteers – 2,000 of whom are CIPD members – have signed-up to help deliver CV and interview workshops and careers insights talks across 2,700 schools and colleges. The CIPD has played a key role in supporting and delivering this activity, enlisting the help of our volunteers and taking part in around 20 Apprenticeship fairs this summer alone.

Finally, the CIPD’s own initiative, Steps Ahead Mentoring has continued to grow from strength to strength, with 1,500 members signed-up to mentor young jobseekers and a recent expansion into London and the South East. The success speaks for itself – 73% of young people who have taken part in Steps Ahead Mentoring have found employment.

The last two years has also seen an increasing number of organisations introducing making their workplaces and practices more youth friendly as they’ve recognised the value of bringing in young people in order to develop employees who fit the business and have the skills the organisation needs. Encouragingly, more employers than ever are welcoming young people through their doors, widening access and entry routes and offering opportunities to experience the working world firsthand. For example, a Learning to Work survey found that over a third of employers had increased their provision of work experience and internships placements in the last year alone.

An increase in the number of employers offering Apprenticeships is another success story of the past two years, particularly in industries and sectors where before they may not have been considered as a viable access route, such as business administration or care. It’s also encouraging to see that employers are making Apprenticeships a part of their longer-term recruitment strategy, with over half of organisations using apprentices as a way to build talent pipelines. But it’s not only access routes employers have been seeking to improve; 62% of employers are even considering changing their recruitment practices to be more youth friendly as they believe too much emphasis is placed on academic qualifications and as a result they’re missing out on young people with potential.

So, the good news is that more employers are helping to prepare young people for work and are rethinking the way they recruit and opportunities they offer in order to attract more young people. These and other developments can be found in a new report we’ve published to celebrate our birthday, Employers: Learning to Work with young people. But the job remains far from complete, and despite the positive stories highlighted here, more needs to be done to consolidate and build on progress so far. Which is why, in the CIPD Manifesto for Work, we outline several steps that we feel should be taken to build on the progress already made in this area. Schools and the National Careers Service should be sufficiently resourced in order to meet young people’s needs for adequate careers advice and guidance; local authorities should work with the National Careers Service to help broker relationships between schools and employers; there needs to be an increased focus on the quality of Apprenticeship programmes and further engagement with employers on Apprenticeship design and development, and further advice should be provided to small and medium-sized employers on employing apprentices.

We should celebrate the progress made by employers so far, but not lose sight that more still needs to be done. Which is why we’re asking employers to shift from defining talent narrowly through academic qualifications, to recruit for capacity not necessarily achievements, to integrate volunteering into recruitment practices and to measure the impact of young people engaging with young people has on the organisation. The CIPD’s Learning to Work programme will continue to lead on these issues to help ensure that all young people can gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the world of work.


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