Is there a mismatch between young people’s ambitions, and the North East job market?

When businesses are struggling to recruit, why are we still seeing a high rate of young people who are not in employment, education or training in the North East?

A new, collaborative piece of research, called Realising the North East Ambition, has examined this mismatch and resulted in six recommendations for change. Dr Emily Rainsford, from Insights North East, and Kim Smith, from the North East LEP, explain the findings.

What did you want to find out from this research?

Emily: In the North East we have high levels of youth unemployment at the same time as we have high levels of vacancies. So obviously something isn’t matching up in terms of what students plan to do after their education, and the demand in the labour market.

Kim: We wanted to know why that is. Can we be doing more to smooth the transition for these young people from education to work? This research was a way of us taking a magnifying glass and looking more closely at the plans and ambitions of college students in our region – what subjects they’re studying, if these fit with local job opportunities, and at what point they plan to enter the jobs market based upon their intended destinations, for example, apprenticeships, jobs or full time higher education.

Which organisations were involved, and how did you access the data you needed?

Kim: This has been a truly collaborative project. As well as the North East LEP and Insights North East, which brings together Newcastle University, Northumbria University, the NHS, North of Tyne Combined Authority and Newcastle City Council, David Marlow from Third Life Economics provided oversight in relation to national policy.

Emily: We used both qualitative and quantitative data, and relatively small scale working with four colleges across the region as well as with practitioners and policy-makers in the education and employment fields. We did focus groups with students, used data collected by colleges on their students’ intended destinations as well as official data sources such as from the Department for Work and Pensions.

What are the key recommendations?

Kim: The research has highlighted some excellent work being done in North East colleges and six areas where there is scope to build on this. You can see the findings and recommendations here, but the main areas of focus are on including young people’s voices in the development of careers support; continuing to embed and evaluate the Gatsby Good Careers Guidance Benchmarks; taking a ‘whole-person’ approach to careers guidance; exposing young people to the world of work from a younger age; gathering better data; and reducing the complexity of the systems that young people have to navigate.

Emily: Colleges collect a lot of data and they collect it well, but it’s still very difficult to compare it across organisations, across the region and across the UK. There’s a real need to have better data available for both educators and employers which will make it easier to structure careers guidance and match up supply and demand in the labour market. We also saw in the focus groups that students have a very mixed experience of employer engagement but where it is a high quality experience, it can be incredibly effective.

What has the reaction to the research been like?

Kim: There’s been an incredible level of interest in the research regionally and nationally. We sense checked the areas for policy development with all of the nine FE colleges and two largest sixth form centres in the North East LEP area and received a positive response and a commitment to taking forward those areas that are within our gift locally. We have started socialising the findings with national partners which has generated an incredible level of interest, with over 80 attendees from across government and the wider national skills sector attending an online launch. We want to understand whether the challenges we have in the North East are reflected in other areas as we want to effect change nationally, where needed. We worked collaboratively to do the research and now we’ll work collaboratively to implement change. There’s a real commitment to wanting to do this together.

What do you hope the research will result in, longer term?

Emily: I would like this to help college students have better-informed careers guidance which helps them transition into good employment. I’d like teachers and careers advisers to be equipped with good quality data that they’re confident in. And for employers to be able to put good people into the jobs they have available. We also found that young people can feel a lot of stress around making careers-related decisions, feeling that each decision is very high stakes. We need to take a more holistic view of supporting them through this.

Kim: We are not going to shy away from the fact that we have skills shortages and that we need to change this, and even though there are many underpinning and complex factors to consider, these findings are an important step towards us making changes locally and affecting change nationally.

Read an executive summary of Realising North East Ambition here and read the full report.

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