Celia Tennant: Hard childhood shouldn’t impact on career

The post school transition is then such a difficult one. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The post school transition is then such a difficult one. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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INVESTMENT in young people can prevent a lost generation, writes Celia Tennant

Not being able to make the smooth transition from school into the next stage of your life, be it education, employment or further training, shouldn’t hold you back. Nor should where you grow up or your family circumstances have the potential to impact on your life so massively.

Recently, I met a bright, confident and inspiring young woman aged 19. She wants to have a good life, be comfortable, pay her rent, go on holiday and give something back to help other people. Now in employment, she’s had a difficult road to navigate; with experience of care, homelessness and life in a hostel before she managed to secure her own home, all by the age of 19. How do you manage all of this at the same time as plot your career path? It’s not a surprise that the post school transition is then such a difficult one – but it still shouldn’t have the potential to have such a damaging effect on future life success.

Sadly, a recent report commissioned by the Scottish Government which tracked cohorts of Scottish young people over a 10- and 20-year period, found the consequences of being a young person Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) had a significant and long-term scarring effect.

According to the report there were many clear risk factors which could be used to indicate an increased likelihood of being NEET. These include a lack of qualifications; the amount of time absent from school; being a young carer; teenage pregnancy; and family circumstances, especially if from a household where no other adult works. None of this information is new, but it’s still a startling reminder of how a series of circumstances can have such a huge impact on your future success and just how damaging being NEET can be.

Back in 2008, Inspiring Scotland sought to understand what it could do to help address this issue and created the first 10-year multi-million funding portfolio with backing from the Scottish Government, trusts & foundations, private individuals and corporates. This investment has been channelled into a portfolio of charities able to address this issue and help those most disadvantaged. So far, over 18,000 young people aged 14-19 have been supported into employment, education or training.

These young people have importantly developed softer skills, such as confidence, life skills, and self-worth. They have also been given the opportunity to achieve educational qualifications which the report highlights as being such an important factor for success.

The 14:19 Fund and the current important Scottish Government policy driver, Developing the Young Workforce, has a strong focus on offering young people the opportunity to achieve qualifications, which are often an alternative to those offered by the school curriculum. Many are vocational which can be most relevant to future employers and careers. Another essential ingredient is providing young people with the opportunity to gain experience of work. This is a critical success factor for many charities in the 14:19 Fund, who have created strong links with employers across Scotland. But perhaps the most important element is that programmes are person centred, and focus on the different needs and circumstances of each and every young person.

Of course, we don’t expect each young person’s transition to be a smooth one, but with the right type of support it can be easier, and remain on an upward trajectory so, when a hurdle falls in the way, they have more resilience to move on quickly and without leaving such a lasting damaging effect.

We must learn from our experiences and not allow the course for future generations to be the same as the past. In Scotland we have a wealth of knowledge, programmes and organisations which can help our young people.

Investment needs to continue to be channelled where there is evidence of real and lasting impact. Inspiring Scotland’s 14:19 Fund aims to invest £100m over 10 years to help disadvantaged young people into employment, education, training and the next stage of their life, so that being NEET isn’t a scar on another generation.

• Celia Tennant is chief executive of Inspiring Scotland