Responsible Business Week is a great week in which to hear that the unemployment rate in Wales has reduced.
But global unemployment statistics hide some concerning facts. For example, youth unemployment comprises 40% of the total unemployment rate in the UK, despite 16-25 year olds making up only 13% of the population.
Here at ColegauCymru, a small charity governed by its members – all further education colleges – we are unsurprisingly tasked with championing the benefits of education and training. Our day job, the key purpose for our existence, is to influence public policy so that Wales’ citizens and its communities can grow more prosperous and reach their potential. Ultimately, our efforts should contribute to the development of more employable individuals, improved employment opportunities, and more productive businesses.
But whilst we go about our business, developing and advocating evidence-based public policy improvements, sharing best practice from around the world and implementing training solutions, what is it that we can do to nurture and practice our core ethic of doing good on a more practical day-to-day level to address the youth unemployment crisis?
The single biggest factor in youth recruitment? Work experience
A range of reports cite work experience as the single biggest factor in recruitment. Yet only a minority of employers offer any such opportunity. Smaller employers face the greatest barriers to engaging. And as Wales’ business sector is dominated by micro employers, the situation is acute.
We have been supporting work experience opportunities for Wales’ vocational learners and apprentices since 2011, through developing consortium applications for Erasmus+ funded work placements abroad. In fact, we have just heard that we have been successful in securing almost €500,000 for 215 more learners and apprentices from Wales to benefit from this work mobility scheme from 2016-18. And we published a website last year to help individuals, careers advisors and employers better understand the systems that underpin learning and work mobility across Europe.
We also offer work placements within ColegauCymru. Yes, we are a small organisation with around just 10 staff, but careful management and planning has helped us to establish good partnerships with a number of learning providers. The result is that we receive on an annual basis an accountancy trainee from our local college, Cardiff & Vale College; business administration learners from France and Spain on Erasmus+ funded programmes; and social science undergraduate students from Cardiff University.
Given that this week is the BITC’s Responsible Business Week, it would be remiss of me not to mention that some of the Cardiff University undergraduate placements have previously been tasked with supporting us in delivering a BITC Big Tick-Commended initiative: the Money for Life Challenge. The Challenge, a Lloyd’s Banking Group initiative that was managed in Wales by ColegauCymru throughout its lifetime (2012-2015), aimed to challenge and support young people to improve their money management skills. By partnering with housing associations, youth groups, learning providers and other supportive organisations, we were able to reach some of those most in need of support. It reaped a number of particularly proud moments, including Wales winning the UK-wide Challenge twice in four years.
Colleges and employers join up work experience and community benefit
Our member colleges also go to great lengths in developing, facilitating and supporting work placements for their learners. They develop strong relationships with for-profit and non-profit companies large and small to source live project briefs for learners. Many of the projects are aimed at supporting local communities whilst at the same time developing learners’ vocational and employability skills. For example:
- A partnership between Pembrokeshire College‘s Social Care Department and St David’s Care in the Community sees learners support adults with learning disabilities on community and environmental projects. The initiative won a TES FE award for Teaching & Learning in 2014.
- A life-changing partnership between a wide range of organisations across the private, public and third sectors facilitated Coleg Sir Gâr-trained tradesmen and apprentices to build a mill, a water hole and a maternity facility in an impoverished area of Uganda over a number of years.
Over the current academic year, a number of college learners have been lending a helping hand in their local communities, developing their own skills and improving their prospects at the same time. For example:
- The Cambrian Railways Partnership (CRP) was recognised last October by the Association for Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) Awards for its work to improve access to rail services for individuals with learning difficulties and/or mobility issues, working with students from Coleg Ceredigion in Aberystwyth and Derwen College, Oswestry on a film, ‘A Helping Hand’, and featuring its Orange Wallet Scheme.
- Horticulture learners from Coleg Cambria Northop designed a garden for the courtyard of Llys Jasmine, a supported accommodation built for Wales & West Housing in partnership with Flintshire County Council.
- Welsh-medium nursery Meithrinfa Gymraeg Derwen Deg in Llandudno Junction provided construction trainees from Grŵp Llandrillo Menai with a perfect live brief to refurbish several rooms.
- Second hand clothes are upcycled into highly saleable cultural fashion pieces thanks to a continuing collaboration between Cardiff’s Oxfam Boutique and Coleg y Cymoedd‘s Art & Design Department.
- Foundation Degree Film and Video students from the College Merthyr Tydfil have produced a film on wild animal welfare for RSPCA.
In celebrating Responsible Business Week 2016, we’ve seen and read many examples and interesting ideas of how businesses of all shapes and sizes can act responsibly. This is our contribution to the moral imperative. We’ll reflect on the others’ contributions that have published during the Week and hope to join in again with new stories to tell on our progress next year.