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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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“Mainstream education doesn’t work for everyone.”


This is an interview with Rosi Prescott, CEO, Central YMCA, one of the UK's leading health and fitness charities. The Central YMCA was also the world's first YMCA. The YMCA is a worldwide movement, founded on 6 June 1844 by George Williams in London. The national YMCA organisations, made up of the local organisations, are part of the World Alliance of YMCAs. The World Alliance's main motto is "empowering young people."

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: The education of young people is a passion of yours. What do you see as the main problems in education in the UK at the moment, the things you think need fixing?

Rosi Prescott, CEO, Central YMCA: I think we’re still putting too much reliance on mainstream education, when in fact, it doesn’t actually work for everyone.

In addition, the rising cost of education, and specifically university tuition fees, means many young people are struggling to afford further education.

Indeed, our latest report found that lack of employment opportunities, and failing to succeed within the education system were the top two concerns for 16-25 year olds in Britain, with being in a low income bracket cited as one of the biggest barriers for overcoming these challenges.

We work with thousands of young people every year, many who have fallen out of the mainstream education system for one reason or another.

For many of those people, less traditional forms of education work much better for them – our Study Programme, for example, attempts to tackle the issues caused by teaching ‘subjects for subjects’ sake’.

So instead of teaching Maths and English in a traditional way, for example, students are taught the required skills to pass these core subjects through other, more relatable subjects and real-life situations that they can easily engage with, such as engineering and horticulture.

We work with thousands of young people every year, many who have fallen out of the mainstream education system for one reason or another.

I think we definitely need to do more of this, and not just try and force every young person to learn in exactly the same way – we have hundreds of great case studies of young people that have thrived from simply studying in different ways. Mainstream education is great, and does work for many, but it’s important to remember it’s not for everyone.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What do you think are the biggest challenges with preparing young people for the workforce?

Rosi Prescott, CEO, Central YMCA: A lot of this comes down to experience, and actually equipping our young people with the necessary skills to enter the workforce. A major stepping stone from education to long-term employment for a lot of young people is apprenticeships.

The government has realised this – and now works closely with businesses to bring the standards of these schemes up. Official standards have also been set to ensure that young people are getting the best experience possible. 

Although apprenticeship schemes are improving, and increasingly in popularity, we still need better engagement between schools and local businesses to prepare young people for work and training. An increased focus needs to be placed on this, as well as better careers advice in schools.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: When young people really want to work but don't, what do you think is holding them back?

Rosi Prescott, CEO, Central YMCA: It can be down to a number of issues – they might not have the family network in place to support them, they might have issues with body image leading to low self esteem, be suffering from substance abuse issues, or worse.

Our latest report flagged these as major issues for the 16-25 age group. Often people automatically label these people as ‘lazy’, when in fact they might be dealing with lots of underlying issues.

We find that a lot of people we work with are perfectly capable, but just don’t have the self-confidence to apply themselves or thrive in a traditional environment that would prepare them for work.

It’s in this sort of situation where mentoring programmes and one-to-one support really helps – we just need to recognise that getting young people into work can’t be done with a rigid approach, rather be tailored to the individual.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What can we do to better prepare young people for long and successful careers? Where are the current skills/knowledge gaps?

Rosi Prescott, CEO, Central YMCA: Offer them sound advice from a young age, invest in more learning and development that is actually right for that certain individual, as well as giving them access to work experience in school, college and beyond.

The benefits of businesses engaging with young people is obvious, we now just need more of them to do it – not least to fill widening skills gaps, which are now posing huge recruitment issues.

The benefits of businesses engaging with young people is obvious.

On top of this, schools need to be promoting the benefits of apprenticeships more effectively.

Often they are overlooked as a career option, or even dismissed as they pose competition for the funding associated with the learner.

We need to be identifying the jobs that the industry is crying out for, and educating young people in these areas.

For example, last year the CIOB highlighted the need for 182,000 construction jobs to be filled by 2018 [PDF],  and yet, just 7,280 people completed construction apprenticeships in 2013. There’s a clear gap between the talent we need, compared to the apprenticeships being taken in those fields.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What challenges do young people face now that they didn't 5, 10, 20 years ago?

Rosi Prescott, CEO, Central YMCA: The issues facing young people these days are complex and ever-changing.

Widely recognised and discussed issues such as inflation, increasing house prices and rising education fees are just scratching the surface. They are also facing an increasing number of ‘invisible’ issues that are unlikely to appear in Government statistics, such issues connected to body image, 24-hour social networking, and pressures of a materialism – some of the top causes of harm in our report.

The issues facing young people these days are complex and ever-changing.

It may be true that the current generation of youngsters has a better quality of life than previous generations, but these concerns cause genuine harm, especially to the most vulnerable people within society.

We must now make sure we don’t tackle these issues in isolation and instead, take a rounded view of all of these.

Agencies supporting young people must now work together to combat these increasingly complex issues.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

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