Stephen Batchelor has been in post for just over three months as Project Manager for the Kent and Medway Collaborative Outreach Programme (KaMCOP). He reflects here on what he has learned and what the opportunities are for our young people.
Since being in post I have had time to get to know the partners, schools, and some of the young people whose aspirations we are aiming to help realise. It has been a whirlwind three months, but I have very quickly been able to understand some of the real challenges that our young people face.
Higher education can be a tough sell to a lot of the young people that we work with. The impact of disadvantage is huge and widespread. It is difficult to see a long term opportunity, and the benefits that it could bring, when so many other problems and issues are so immediate and pressing. When we engage with young people in schools, colleges and other settings it is important to remember the effort and sacrifices that they may well have made to even get this far. We are still trying to understand the unique characteristics of National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) learners, but what does seem evident from the work that our colleagues at HEAT have undertaken, is that the crunch point for them, as with KMPF learners, seems to come at the time when they are able to make choices about their education and when other pressures, often not of their own making, may well force them down another route.
That is why it is really important to paint a realistic and relatable picture of what higher education, or a higher apprenticeship, can offer them. Last month the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) launched its Skills Strategy for the next five years. The future projections that have contributed to the strategy are startling: by 2020, 50.3% of the new jobs available in the region will require candidates to hold a qualification at level 4 and above – this in a region where currently only 28% of the population are qualified to that level; 6% below the national average.
Clearly it has never been as important for our young people to ensure that they gain higher level qualifications and experience of the work place in order to access the forthcoming opportunities. Equally, it remains a clear concern that our NCOP and KMPF learners very often hit significant barriers that prevent them from reaching their full potential – at that very crunch point of educational choice.
But whilst these figures may be startling, they also represent real opportunities – important sectors in our region such as health and social care, construction, and the creative industries will need a huge number of highly skilled workers over the next five to ten years; roles that would be available to our young people, and would enable them to develop successful professional careers that make a real difference to their region and local communities.
This is why it is crucial to make sure that our young people are informed about the world they will be journeying into as adults. On the 6 November, KaMCOP held the first in what will hopefully be a series of conferences, designed to engage young people in careers in our priority sectors. Focusing firstly on the health and social care sector, our guest speakers made clear how education and training at a higher level is a vital step in embarking on a professional career, but importantly outlining how realistic and achievable those career opportunities are.
It is a time of great uncertainty in the United Kingdom which increases the pressure on us as professional educators and outreach professionals to ensure that we provide young people with the knowledge, activities and materials that will help them make informed choices about their future. Making that future real, relatable and achievable is our duty and responsibility.
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