Firms urged to help next generation of schoolkids after pandemic disrupts their career prospects

September 23, 2021

Pioneering Bristol education charity Ablaze is calling on firms in the city to invest in developing secondary school pupils or face a new generation of employees who lack the skills they need to thrive in the workplace.

The pandemic has caused unprecedented levels of disruption to schools and their pupils, with students being forced to rely on remote or home learning. 

In addition, they have missed out on gaining vital work experience, which in turn impacts their confidence in career prospects.

Ablaze, an independent charity tackling inequality of opportunity for young people in Bristol and the surrounding region, points to research from the London School of Economic that highlights growing educational disparities between privileged students and those from poorer backgrounds.

It revealed that almost three quarters of private school pupils benefited from full days of virtual teaching during lockdown, compared to just  38% from State schools.

To help combat the negative impact the pandemic has had on secondary school students – and the potential impact it could still have on their career prospects – Ablaze is urging the city’s businesses to support its West of England Mentoring (WEM) scheme.

WEM sessions provide 12 to 15-year-old students with access to local professionals to help plot out a career path post-GSCE. So far 69% of pupils said the sessions left them with a better plan while 94% felt better about school after participating. 

Ablaze CEO Sally Melvin said: “The unprecedented disruption Covid-19 has caused students is further reaching than solely academic attainment.

“The lack of time in school has also negatively impacted their ability to acquire knowledge and attributes that set them up for the world of work, whether that’s work experience or one-on-one sessions with career advisors.

“I have no doubt that this will result in an increased skills gap without the support of local businesses taking part in our mentoring scheme.”

She said the sessions were pivotal in the development of pre-GCSE pupils, while organisations saw the benefits of getting involved too, both in terms of the perception of their social responsibility and in attracting the next generation of employees.

“It’s a great way to be introduced to a school in your local area and build meaningful relationships with prospective candidates,” she added.

“Some of our mentor partners enter into work experience agreements with schools, which provide them with the opportunity to appreciate the different avenues into the workplace, from university and apprenticeships to roles which don’t require higher education. 

“With the negative impact the pandemic has had on students, especially those from poorer backgrounds, it’s vitally important that students across the South West have access to mentors as early as possible in the new academic year.

“That will only be possible with the help of professionals throughout the region.”

Samantha Morgan, the parent of a pupil who took part in a virtual WEM scheme, said: “When my son told me about the programme, he said he was really nervous, particularly as he finds speaking to people he doesn’t know difficult.

“A couple of weeks in he said he was starting to really enjoy it and he was getting knowledge about all the different things you could do, how to get there and how to think about his future. In his words, ‘it’s great to see into my future.’”

Ablaze has supported thousands of young people throughout Bristol since 2005 by delivering programmes in schools which aim to raise aspiration and attainment and improve skill levels to boost young people’s chances in continuing education, employability and life.

Ablaze matches school requests with business offers of support and works with organisations to maximise the value volunteers bring through recruitment, training, brokerage into schools and measuring impact.

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