How the Leeds-based Ahead Partnership has helped 200,000 young people achieve their goals

The business community can play a big role in destroying hurdles holding disadvantaged communities back, according to Megan Lipp of the Ahead Partnership. She spoke to Greg Wright.

Megan Lipp

THE pandemic has shattered old certainties and dealt a hammer blow to those who believed the economy was set on a steady course.

Megan Lipp, the Head of Development at Ahead Partnership, is determined to ensure no child or community is left behind as life slowly returns to normal.

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The Leeds-based social enterprise, which encourages businesses to mentor thousands of pupils to help make them more employable, is determined to keep striding towards its long term objectives.

Over the last 14 years, the Ahead Partnership has worked with more than 2,000 businesses and partner organisations. It has helped around 200,000 young people to find the opportunities they need to progress. It will use technology to help a new generation receive a boost from mentoring.

“We have made a concrete plan to deliver all our activity as flexibly as possible for the next academic year, including virtual and digital delivery,’’ said Ms Lipp.

“Our aim is to ensure we can reach all of the young people in the city, especially those in most need.

“We can provide mentoring, for example with mock interviewing skills virtually. We are also developing meaningful virtual work experience programmes for young people to get involved with.

“Many people are facing a challenging job market, and our aim is to showcase what the region has to offer.”

The response from the organisation’s employer partners has been overwhelming, according to Ms Lipp. These powerful community bonds were underlined by the success of Welcome Back to Leeds, a creative competition for 11 to 19 year olds to celebrate the city of Leeds re-awakening after lockdown.

Ms Lipp said: “We received entries from two thirds of the Leeds secondary schools for the Welcome Back to Leeds competition, with some entries coming from secondary schools in the most disadvantaged wards of the city.

“I have a fantastic job because I get to meet young people face to face when they’re taking part in a project and I also help partners achieve their corporate purpose. Ahead Partnership is a social business with a social purpose.

“We want to help get town centres up and running again through our network of business supporters. There are lots of SMEs in towns who want to work together to build a better community.”

Ms Lipp acknowledges that many people will feel jaded by the past few months. Every sector has faced unexpected challenges.

She added: “With predictions of widening attainment rifts between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils, the need to protect and encourage young people has been cast into the spotlight.

“In a similar vein, stories of businesses struggling; financial losses; and redundancies have also saturated public attention, in turn inspiring numerous support campaigns.”

Ms Lipp added: “The lockdown and its implications have heightened awareness of our economy and society, and with it, the close-knit relationship between young people accessing the right skills, and the success of the private sector.”

An extensive programme of funding has been designed to support young people and the economy, despite the disruption caused by the pandemic.

She added: “This includes a £1bn COVID-19 ‘catch-up’ package designed to help address months of structured learning lost, shortly followed by a £2bn “kickstart scheme encouraging employers to provide opportunities for young people and upskill their workforce.

She added: “Much is being made of a ‘skills-focused recovery’, with a focus upon employer-led learning, skills training and enterprise set to play a crucial role in rebuilding our economy.

“Though the pandemic will leave a lasting mark, businesses find themselves with a unique opportunity to ‘future-proof’ their talent pipeline without incurring the cost for six months.

“In turn, young people have the potential to gain invaluable on-the-job experience and develop employer connections

She added: “At Ahead Partnership, we have been making headway to help join the dots between employers and education for years, helping to deliver inspiring careers initiatives, put promises into practice and open-up opportunities for mutual benefit.

“We’ve also experienced first-hand what this type of funding can achieve, and the positive impact it can have upon businesses and young people in the short term and years down the line.

“Social distancing and the need for COVID-19 security will remain for some time and implementing careers activity and Government initiatives needs careful planning.

“Having had to pause the work we do engaging young people at school for the last few months of term, Ahead Partnership has been making plans to ensure that young people do not continue to miss out and businesses can continue accessing fantastic young talent from September,’ Ms Lipp said.

“We’re able to design safe, flexible, initiatives for forward-thinking businesses, and the feedback we’re getting already is that skills-focused recovery will be the priority for many, including some of the most innovative businesses.

“This is obviously reassuring and hopefully indicates that lessons have been learned from previous experiences. Businesses need to be comfortable with the investments they are making. But they should be seen as just that – investments for their future.”

A relatively modest outlay to develop talent can reap huge long term benefits and break down barriers which have stifled economic growth for far too long.