Kirstie Donnelly: Go for gold on careers to halt region's '˜brain drain'

THIS has been a real summer of success. Coming second in the Olympic medal table, behind only the US (despite having a far smaller population), has certainly put a smile on my face, and possibly yours too.

Do children receive good careers advice?

Post-Olympics, one thing that’s been doing the rounds this week has been a table comparing how Britain’s regions did. Apparently, had they all been competing as autonomous teams, Yorkshire would have come home in 17th place on the medal table.

We love to compare and compete around Britain, whether it’s to say we have the best schools, the tastiest tea shop (Bettys obviously), the best musicians, writers or artists, or the most beautiful scenery.

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But one ‘league table’ I think we need to spend more time looking at is around career opportunity. In research that we published this week following a nationwide survey of more than 3,200 14-19 year olds, we found that, depending on where they live, Britain’s young people are not getting the same advantages when choosing a career.

Yorkshire and the Humber wasn’t at the bottom of the table but, to use an Olympic term, it isn’t ‘podiuming’ either.

Teens from this area are aware of less than one in five of the potential jobs available to them in the UK, meaning they are failing to consider a large number of high-skilled and well-paid jobs but over-selecting jobs in sectors that simply won’t have the vacancies when they leave education, such as doctors and software programmers.

Meanwhile, only 14 per cent of young people are likely to find out about their future career from a careers advisor.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising then that so many of Yorkshire’s best and brightest are upping sticks and leaving. A Policy Exchange report from 2014 found that up to 55 per cent of graduates from the UK’s largest universities decide to leave Yorkshire and the Humber in a bid to further their careers.

This was backed up in our research, which found that, of six cities surveyed, young people from Leeds were least likely to want to live in the city in which they grew up in the future.

There’s nothing wrong of course with people wanting to move around and experience new places, but ‘brain drain’ is a real threat to Yorkshire. These are talented young people, who could contribute significantly to the success of local employers. Yet their expectation is that they have a better chance at a good career if they move elsewhere.

But the fact is that’s not necessarily the case. Overall, jobs growth might be expected to be higher in the south and in London, but that’s not to say Yorkshire isn’t going to see new and good jobs emerge in the coming years, especially if the Northern Powerhouse agenda is delivered.

We know from our research that a fantastic range of career opportunities are available to young people, from nursing to sales. The problem is that young people just don’t know about these roles (or simply aren’t considering them).

It’s a cliché to say knowledge is power, but it’s true. Watching the Olympics, I am always struck by the number of obscure sports that people are involved in; in order to know you’ll be good as a pole-vaulter, you have to be aware of pole-vaulting as a sport in the first place.

Yorkshire’s teens need to be given relevant and timely information underpinned by labour market analysis about what jobs are forecast to be available locally, so that they know not only what they can do, but that they don’t have to relocate in order to do them.

Through the devolution agenda, the Government has promised a package of measures for the North which includes new and improved infrastructure, increased funding for the development of regional industries and more autonomy over local decision-making.

However, without the young skilled workforce on board, this investment could ultimately fall short of its aim.

That’s why we at City & Guilds think it is more important than ever to level the playing field in terms of careers advice by providing a nationwide programme that incorporates access to employers and local and national jobs market information, so that young people know that they are training for jobs that will actually exist. Yorkshire’s teens deserve the same life chances as those born a few hundred miles away.

Like our Olympic success, we don’t expect this problem to be resolved overnight. It might seem like a distant memory now, but 20 years ago we returned home with only one gold medal from the Atlanta Olympic Games.

Getting from then to now – 47 gold medals and Team GB’s best result since 1908 – has not been easy. Obviously, it’s mostly down to the athletes’ abilities and commitment, but this has been backed up by a considerable amount of funding, but a system overhaul and a real commitment to change things for the better. It will take a similar amount of commitment and focus to get careers advice where we ultimately want it to be, so that a young person in Yorkshire has a chance of a gold medal career.

Kirstie Donnelly is managing director of City & Guilds UK.