Comment: Helping young people get the skills employers expect

WITH exam results and graduations out of the way, it’s that time of year when school-leavers and univ­ersity graduates are forced to stop and ask themselves “what’s next?”

WITH exam results and graduations out of the way, it’s that time of year when school-leavers and univ­ersity graduates are forced to stop and ask themselves “what’s next?”

This year’s exam results look promising, with 156,000 passes at Higher level representing a 5.5 per cent increase on 2014. However, with recent news stories of some universities reducing the number of places they offer through clearing, and the uncertainty for many of finding full- time employment, this time of year is daunting for many young people.

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Whilst school and university can provide a solid academic education and exam results get better year on year, young people often find they do not possess the basic skills that employers have come to expect. According to a recent survey of education and skills by Pearson College in London and the Confederation of British Industry, a third of businesses are not satisfied with school and college leavers’ attitudes to work and more than half of businesses are not satisfied with young people’s work experience.

This could be part of the reason why many young people feel that their academic achievements aren’t translating into the careers they aspire to, with many finding themselves unemployed or underemployed upon leaving education.

Whilst Scotland has led the way in the UK, with a supportive government that has youth employment right at the forefront of its priorities and policies, there is still much to be done. Despite the improvements, youth unemployment is still higher than we’d all like it to be – and underemployment and low wages are a real problem for Scotland’s young people. This is a growing problem area that requires our support. We are seeing more and more examples of bright, talented young people who lack the confidence or self-esteem to break this cycle after a series of rejections.

At ProjectScotland, we match 16 to 30-year-olds with full-time volunteering opportunities in a sector that complements their interests. They are given a structure, direction, are supported by a mentor and receive access to employability workshops. We work with all young people who come to us – prison-leavers, school-leavers, university-leavers, those with multiple barriers and those who are high achievers – in essence, if they need our help we will give it. As such, the demand for what we offer continues to grow with more visits to our website and applications than ever before, so much so that we recently lowered the age of applicants from 18 to 16 to be as inclusive as possible.

It is my feeling that gaining experience should not be limited to traditional work experience. Volunteering can allow young people to learn ess­ential employability skills whilst developing valuable awareness of their community and becoming active citizens. We have many cases of young people who’ve flourished with the support they’ve received through their ProjectScotland placements. Our education system often fails to provide critical skills and this shows that it’s vital we support our young people if they are to get on in life.

Voluntary placements not only help young people develop their employability skills but also benefit the wider community.

Since 2005 ProjectScotland have partnered with over 540 charities and not-for-profit programmes throughout Scotland and our young people have contributed three million volunteer hours to these organisations to date. We believe that volunteering should be a win-win, and as such our placements are designed to be a meaningful experience for both the volunteers and the organisations we partner with.

As we celebrate our tenth birthday, results from our recently commissioned research into the lifelong impact of volunteering reveals strong evidence of increased employability levels following a volunteering placement. 93 per cent of our volunteers felt that their voluntary placement had an impact on their career and life choices to date while 78 per cent of volunteers continued on to employment, education or training within six months of completing their placement – proof, we believe, that volunteering is a legitimate step for young people looking to gain experience as part of their journey into work.

• Paul Reddish is chief executive of ProjectScotland,