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London’s biggest growth industries risk missing out on a new generation of skilled, ambitious and available young people, a major survey claims today as London Youth set out a four-point plan to get more young Londoners from diverse backgrounds a first step on the career ladder.

The survey of 16-24-year-olds shows how 63% of young Londoners believe they are denied career-making work experience opportunities because they think employers value ‘who you know, not what you know’ and don’t take account of individuals’ skills or ambition.

The survey also reveals that:

  • 80% of them say it is difficult to break into the jobs market without relevant work experience
  • 85% of them want employers to offer more work experience opportunities.

The poll of almost 600 young people shows how key London growth industries such as creative and culture, finance, and media are the most in demand – but can feel impenetrable when it comes to getting work experience.

Sania Khan (22) from Barking is currently working as a Media and Communications Youth Advisor at Talent Match London. Since graduating from university with a degree in Digital Television and interactive Media, she has struggled to find work experience. Sania commented:

“Work experience is key for getting me to where I want to be in my career, but it’s been really difficult for me to get that experience. It’s all about who you know and not having the right networks has been a real barrier for me. Although I have the right qualifications and technical skills, I lack the confidence and social communication skills to build a network and get myself through the door.”

Rosemary Watt-Wyness, Chief Executive of London Youth said:

“It’s a tragic shame that while young Londoners are so keen to get an understanding of London’s growth industries, many feel they simply don’t have a way in.

“No one wins. Business loses out on young talent and young Londoners miss a vital first step on the career ladder and a chance to really contribute to the success of the city. It is a vicious circle for young people – they feel they can’t get their foot in the door to get work experience, so won’t be able to make the first step in having a meaningful career.

The uncertainty over Brexit makes it even more important that young people get access to the right opportunities to develop; and employers tell us they want to focus even more on developing and recruiting talented and diverse teams.”

The survey was conducted by OMD UK on behalf of London Youth. It highlights the huge benefits that young people get from work experience opportunities but reveals too that young people with disabilities, or caring responsibilities, face further barriers to accessing work experience, potentially making their challenging search for work even more difficult in the future.

Matt Dronfield, Employer Engagement Manager at London Youth said:

“It is great that young people are showing such ambition and desire to get work experience and that they value what it brings them, but we’ve clearly got to do more to help them.

“There are some great examples of youth organisations working with employers to bring opportunities out to young people in communities, and we need to invest more in the community organisations that can do the outreach needed to find young people who are missing out.

“Lots of employers recognise that it is in their interest to recruit a diverse and ambitious workforce. And it can be so simple to do this: employers don’t always need to make commitments to long-term placements. Some of the best experiences are given by employers simply offering a few hours to young people to take their first step and find out more. We’d be delighted to help more of them to open their doors to a wider pool of young people.”

Work experience opportunities are widely regarded as important steps in helping young people get on the career ladder. In April 2016 The London Fairness Commission recommended supporting and incentivising employers to ‘encourage young people from a wide range of backgrounds to experience and understand the careers they offer’. London Councils, the GLA and many employers champion London Ambitions which aims to give more young people the chance to understand the career opportunities which the capital offers; and Movement to Work is an employer-led national campaign aimed at opening doors to more young people who otherwise face challenges to getting work.

Vasi Nadarajah, Programme Director for Movement to Work said:

“Work experience placements are such powerful opportunities for young people to move toward employability by helping develop their confidence, gain skills, and make valuable contacts within employers. Over 50% of young people completing Movement to Work placements go into paid employment, apprenticeships or further study. As a movement we recognise young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have as much potential as their peers, but need to be given the chances to show what they can achieve. This is why we are collaborating with Talent Match to help identify these young people and provide them with the access to the quality work placements offered by our member organisations.”

Wesley Ankrah, Managing Director at Essential Living Future commented:

“Providing young people with work experience is the very least employers can do. As an employer, I see work experience as an investment in the future growth of our business and presents new opportunities. A recent example of this is that we offered some level 2 photography students the chance to shoot the official launch of the business, which since the event they have commented on how the experience has given them the self-belief that they have chosen the right and an exciting career to pursue. I would love to re-employ the students for work in their professional careers in the future.Kyle, 19, is now an IT support apprentice at NSPCC, and comments:

“My time spent doing work experience has been an integral part of my personal development; it has allowed me to learn from my mistakes, and in my current role as an apprentice, I feel I no longer have to worry about making such errors. It also gave me prior experience in efficiently managing a workload and staying organised. I feel that difficulties with confidence were my greatest barrier in finding work prior to taking these opportunities, and ultimately, work experience has helped me to overcome them.”

Four-point action plan

London Youth has unveiled a four-point action plan to tackle the issue of work experience opportunities for young Londoners and is calling for:

  • Employers to offer more open, short-term taster experiences, and to work with youth organisations to identify diverse candidates who may benefit
  • Youth organisations, schools and employers to work together to ensure that that young people with disabilities or with other needs are supported specifically so they can take advantage of work experience opportunities – with good practice shared through networks of HR professionals
  • Commissioners of programmes to help young people understand career choices and invest more in outreach to find and support those young people missing out, and specifically help them build networks with employers
  • More employers to sign up to the targets and ambitions of Movement to Work and London Ambitions, both of which want to raise the numbers of young people accessing work experience year on year.

 A summary of the survey results can be viewed here