Wed, 12 Aug 2020

Whether we’re celebrating the best professional talent in the region as lead sponsor of the BYPY awards, or helping Dallaglio RugbyWorks to engage teenagers outside of mainstream education through their skills development programme, we’re passionate about tackling youth unemployment and increasing opportunities for young people.

We sat down with director of employer engagement at BMet College, Suzie Branch, and our head of talent, careers and development, Vicky Waters, to discuss the impact of the ongoing coronavirus crisis on youth unemployment, and find out how the Greater Birmingham Professional Services Academy (GBPSA) is planning to combat this.

When BMet College initially joined forces with BNP Paribas Personal Finance  and other key members of the professional services sector to create the UK’s first ever Professional Services Academy for 16-19 year olds, their aim was to guarantee that the city’s professional services sector continued to flourish long into the future.

Suzie explains: “The financial crisis of 2007–2008 had a huge impact on the professional services sector, and at that time a lot of firms stopped recruiting and investing in training completely.

“Fast forward to 2013 and the sector was left facing a huge skills gap problem, with engagement between education and employers at an all-time low.

“The academy was designed to try and address this skills crisis by connecting employers with young people aged 16-19 (many from the most deprived areas in Birmingham) who hadn’t traditionally resonated with Birmingham’s professional sector.”

Official figures have revealed that employment in the UK fell by the largest amount between April and June this year since May to July 2009 (the depths of the financial crisis) and the Office for National Statistics noted that young people were among the worst hit.

Suzie says: “With businesses reducing staff numbers and training resources as a result of Covid-19, this is a really worrying time for young people, and the impact of being unemployed at the beginning of your career can do lasting damage to one’s self-belief – even affecting your future earning potential.

“We’ve come so far in terms of bridging the gap between young people and the professional services sector, and it’s really important that we help deter businesses from repeating the same mistakes made in 2008 and undoing all of this hard work.

“As competition for jobs increases, soft skills such as teamwork and presentation skills are now almost more important than technical skills, and the real-life training students on the programme receive supports what they’re learning in the classroom, strengthening their wider skillset.

“By working with businesses to continue to deliver training and work experience opportunities remotely throughout lockdown, we’ve been able to work around these constraints, and moving forward our vision won’t change even through the current landscape has.”

While the benefits of GBPSA’s work to young people in the region are obvious, businesses getting involved with the programme and offering these opportunities will also find it hugely beneficial to them.

Vicky explains: “When we first started working with BMet College it was very much a part of our CSR agenda, and we didn’t necessarily think of it as a potential feeder for recruitment.

“As our work with the GBPSA has developed however, there has been a significant shift in our approach, and this is now something that is part of our HR and recruitment agenda too.

“As well as breaking down barriers to entry for young people from underprivileged backgrounds, this partnership also allows us to provide development opportunities for our staff that are different to what they get in their normal CPD programme.

“Our team members who choose to become mentors are also given the opportunity to work towards an ILM Level 3 qualification. This means that they are not only making a difference to the development of others, but are also getting something back in terms of their own progression, and as a personal development opportunity this is really valuable.

“We’ve also used this partnership with GBPSA to headhunt for our apprenticeship programme, and most of the students who have joined us for work experience ended up coming back as apprentices.

“In general, our work with BMet and GBPSA has been a catalyst for us to think about how we recruit, and it helps businesses like ours increase diversity and inclusion in our workforce – so it’s a real win win situation for all those involved.”

As we start to emerge out the other side of this crisis, the work that the academy is doing will be more important than ever in terms of tackling the inevitable youth unemployment crisis.

Over one million young people in the UK were due to enter next phase of their lives this summer, but the knock-on effect of this standstill on both their careers and self-confidence will be huge.

Suzie says: “With the help of partners like BNP Paribas Personal Finance, we are determined to ensure tackling youth unemployment stays firmly on the agenda.”