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Overlooked and left behind: improving the transition from school to work for the majority of young people

The transition from school into work is a vital point in the lives of young people. Making a successful transition through a high quality and valued pathway can mean a successful career. Becoming trapped in poor quality and under-valued alternatives can mean a lifetime of poverty.

This report is about young people and social mobility, and focuses on how to ensure that all young people are offered a high quality career path after they leave school. We have found that the current policy structure means a large number of young people do not have good options, and are not supported to make a choice which works for them and is successful.

An increasing number of young people leave school and go on to A-Levels and university. Of the others, a small minority are at risk of dropping out of education, employment or training—the NEETS. Successive governments have focused on these two groups for a long time. But the majority of young people in the UK do not fall into either group. They do not go to university; they find jobs or they continue with some form of vocational education. Despite making up the majority of the emerging workforce, they have received much less attention. It is these young people who are the focus of this report.

The current system for young people who do not follow an academic route is complex and incoherent, with confusing incentives for young people and employers. Careers advice and education are being delivered in a way which means that too many young people simply drift into further studies or their first job, which often has no real prospect of progression.

The combined effects of this confusion are damaging to the UK’s economy because they mean that the workforce is not being given the skills it needs. Investment in all young people has significant long term economic and social value. The current system means that significant potential economic growth is being lost. The inequality between academic and other routes—such as vocational training—does not serve the UK’s economic needs and produces outcomes which are unfair and restrict opportunities for social mobility.

The UK has placed a strong focus on apprenticeships. They have real value in upskilling young people for the future economy. But at present only six per cent of 16–18 year olds follow this route and there must continue to be scope to support young people who do not follow a pathway to university or an apprenticeship to make a successful transition into the work place by other routes.

This report makes eight recommendations to the Government. Our recommendations support the development of a coherent and navigable transition system for those aged 14–24. These recommendations do not add to the policy fragmentation which has hindered progress and clarity. Instead we recommend a cohesive system: a core curriculum for those aged 14–19, with tailor made academic or vocational elements, a gold standard in careers advice, and careers education in schools that empowers young people to make good decisions about their future. This system needs to be underpinned by reliable and publicly available data. It needs to be properly funded, owned by a single Minister, and monitored for success. Only by taking these actions can we make sure that all of our young people have the best chances of success.