Ray McCowan: Employability for young needs redoubled

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There are 1780 people aged under 24 in Edinburgh claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance according to the latest available figures, which also show that 7.2 per cent of school-leavers were unemployed and seeking employment.

While this figure is similar to the national average and is also a huge improvement on the 15.8 per cent rate from 2009-10, we cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to boosting young people’s employability prospects in the Capital. It has to be an ongoing priority for the good of everyone.

With that in mind we hosted an event recently under the banner – Young People Matter in Edinburgh and Lothians. The core aim was to explore ways to bridge the gap between education and employment opportunities for young people. The keynote speaker was the Minister for Youth and Women’s Employment, Annabelle Ewing MSP, who reinforced the importance of enabling young people to make a positive contribution to society. The event was attended by representatives from schools, universities, employers, industry bodies and local and national policy makers.

It was hugely heartening to see the appetite and passion from everyone to ensure that our region’s young people get the best opportunities for their futures.

There is already some fantastic work being done. This includes the academies model where we at Edinburgh College are working in partnership with industry, local authorities and universities to develop young people ready for the world of work with the skills, qualifications and attitudes needed by employers. Other examples are early intervention initiatives to drive interest in specific areas at a young age, such as teaching STEM topics at primary schools.

As well as committing to the shared goal of improving opportunities for young people there is the need to put those young people at the heart of the discussions and debate. Young people need to have a voice. One of the suggestions that came out of the discussions was reverse mentoring – young people mentor employers and educators to let them know what they want out of their training. Establishing such processes would help bridge any gaps in understanding and expectations between prospective employees and employers and also give organisations real insights into their future markets.

Ultimately we have to commit to continuing this process and working together to improve employability options for Edinburgh’s young people.

Ray McCowan is vice-principal, Education Leadership, at Edinburgh College.