Counting the cost of college leavers

Image of Sandra Kerr OBE


Sandra Kerr OBE


Young people are dropping out of sixth form or college costs £800 million per year – and as one in four of young people in secondary education are from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds we know that this is a diverse pool of young people. Now local authorities want funding reforms to help them work with educators and local employers to provide better careers advice and help young people get apprenticeships and jobs. It’s a noble aim, but it must benefit everyone.  Current data shows that BAME application rates for Apprenticeships stands at 25% yet only 9% are successful with their application.

BAME 16-24 year olds are almost twice as likely to be NEETs (not in employment, education or training) than their white counterparts. Meanwhile, the Runnymede Trust has predicted that if the gap between BAME and white employment rates persist, one million BAME people will be unemployed by 2020. That could mean a whole generation is left in low-paid jobs with little chance of progress, or even no work at all. We simply cannot allow that to happen.

These proposals, however, are a catch-22. Whilst employers know the local economy and what skills they need from employees – which would help schools and colleges tailor the advice they give young people – they risk losing out on a huge resource if they continue to recruit from the same talent pool and ignore young BAME people. This is particularly true for careers such as construction, manufacturing and engineering, where it’s often who you know rather than what you know that gets your foot in the door.

So collaboration must start early. This will increase engagement between employers and young people from all backgrounds - including BAME youth. For young people, it can be eye-opening to see career paths they may never have thought about, whilst employers can access the local talent pool and provide details of what it’s like to work for them and how their application process works. If more organisations engaged in this type of pre-application outreach with young BAME people, they could potentially reap huge business benefits.

Making data available can also help create solutions which work for individuals, employers and the local community. A great example of this is Runnymede Trust’s Race Equality Scorecard, which was Highly Commended at the Race for Opportunity Awards 2014. The scorecard provided data on issues affecting ethnic minorities in three London boroughs –everything from health to employment – which helped identify local priorities and inform race equality. This data could help local authorities across the country develop plan to tackle BAME youth unemployment and give young people the support they need.

But data is useless without action to back it up, and engagement means nothing if people can’t get jobs. So we also need employers to look at their recruitment processes and tackle any unintentional barriers to BAME applicants. This could include mandatory unconscious bias training, including BAME people as part of the recruitment and assessment process, monitoring each stage of the recruitment process including sift and interview – all of which have been shown to produce similar conversion rates from application to hiring for BAME and white candidates.

The pool of young BAME talent is growing, and employers need to access it – or risk losing out on the best people. It’s therefore vital that employers ensure they have a fair chance of getting those jobs by reaching out to them early on and ensuring the application process is accessible, fair and transparent. Because having a diverse workforce benefits not just individuals, but also organisations as a whole for effective engagement with customers, clients and service users in the UK and globally.