Perhaps one of the biggest barriers to young people achieving their potential is not knowing the full range of jobs that exist or understanding the different pathways into employment available to them. This is particularly the case with students for whom traditional academic routes either don’t appeal or are unachievable. 

UK charity Education and Employers is working to tackle this issue through an innovative programme that connects volunteers from the world of work with students at schools and colleges. Here, Education and Employers talks about how these inspirational experiences are making more young people aware of alternative career pathways and helping to break down the stigma attached to technical and vocational education and training (TVET).

Praful has a successful career in investment management at global consulting firm Mercer. But unlike many in his position, he followed an unconventional route into employment by pursing vocational education after finishing high school. ‘Having done quite poorly in my GCSEs and my first year at A-levels, I realised that if I wanted to be successful, I would have to try a different approach,’ he says. ‘Despite the perceived stigma that vocational courses attract, I found a GNVQ Advanced Level III Business and Finance to be perfect for me. It made me realise that if I applied myself, then I could achieve anything.’

Praful is now using his experiences to offer career guidance to students through our Inspiring the Future programme, which recruits volunteers from a range of industries to go into schools and colleges to help young people understand more about the world of work and the different career routes to get there.

‘Thinking about the years when I was of a similar age, I remember lacking awareness and motivation when it came to thinking of career choices. It was a difficult time,’ says Praful. ‘I’ve been blessed to come out the other side relatively unscathed, and so I want to contribute where I can by providing advice and guidance at this critical time in a child’s life.’ 

Inspiring the Future came about after we conducted research into the barriers young people face when making career choices. One of the key findings of the research was that the more chances young people have to encounter employers whilst in school, the more they earn and the lower their chances of being either out of education or out of employment as young adults. 

By strengthening employer engagement and giving young people direct access to inspirational volunteers we are helping open students’ eyes to the full range of employment and education options available to them. One of our projects, Career Footsteps, which we deliver in partnership with independent charity the Edge Foundation, specifically focuses on connecting schools to volunteers who have taken a vocational education route. Hearing directly from people who have been in their situation can be an effective way for students, especially those considering routes other than university education, to take on board career advice and see TVET as a viable route into employment.   

Through Inspiring the Future, we connect schools and colleges with volunteers from all sectors and backgrounds through face-to-face events, which focus on a specific theme or sector, and via our online platform, which currently has more than 39,000 registered volunteers and 12,000 teachers. Through the platform, teachers can find and connect with volunteers securely and for free to organise activities in their schools, including career insight talks and mock CV and interview sessions. We also organise showcase events across the country, including through Career Footsteps, where volunteers who have taken a vocational education pathway into employment talk to groups of students about their experiences. 

Why volunteer programmes are so effective

  1. They are a great way to find motivated individuals — volunteers have chosen to give up their time to participate in activities, meaning they’re motivated and can see the real value in passing on their experiences to young people.
  2. They focus on real-life experiences — students get to hear directly from people who have been in their situation, which makes the advice and guidance more relatable and gives the whole experience more resonance.
  3. They’re flexible — schools and colleges can find volunteers that are the perfect fit for them, whatever industry, region or activity they want to focus on, and activities can be adapted to the needs of their specific learning environment.

While Inspiring the Future is a UK initiative, a number of other countries have taken the concept and brand, and adapted it to their particular local contexts, including Australia, Ireland and, for our Inspiring Women campaign, China. We hope more and more countries use our model to build meaningful connections between education settings and local businesses. From our work with employers through Inspiring the Future, we see more and more businesses seeing the value of education engagement programmes as an effective way of building the employability skills of the next generation of graduates. The appetite is out there; it’s just about making the connection.

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