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Addressing systemic inequality in Careers Education

George Floyd was killed a month ago today.

Because of his death, history will teach of a ripple effect – not only of anger, a call for justice and protest; but of unity, solidarity and change. On that day, we learned his name. Now, we’re learning his story – and we’re learning even more about systemic racism. 

I’ve spent the last month listening and reflecting. My friends and colleagues from diverse backgrounds have been kind in offering their own recollections, as well as their views on how we can be better as a society. Along with the clear sense of distress, the reflections and actions that are emerging for individuals, organisations and society provide a renewed sense of determination to act.

I remember the moment I first realised that any organisation can be institutionally racist. It was a seminal point in my early career, through understanding the enormity of the 1999 MacPherson Inquiry. This landmark report into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the death of Stephen Lawrence sent a clear message that change can and should happen at every level. At the time, recommendations were made with the urge to reform – and transform attitudes across public sector bodies, the judiciary and society more broadly.

Recent events reflect the depressing lack of progress that has been made. Consequently, these events pose the question – am I doing enough individually to counter the injustices of racism that exist in society? I know there will be a lot of individuals like me, and organisations like us, asking the same question.  

As the leader of The Careers & Enterprise Company, whose mission is to inspire and prepare young people for the rapidly changing world of work, the answer is that more can and should be done on the issue of progression rates into employment for young people from black backgrounds and other ethnic minorities.  

The disparity between educational attainment and employment

The disparity between educational attainment rates and subsequent employment rates is stark. There have been improvements in GCSE attainment and Higher Education participation by young black people at age 18. The latest Oxford University undergraduate figures show one in five British undergraduates who gained a place to study at the University of Oxford last year were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. This is a positive step – and a sign of progress. 

However, unemployment rates are significantly higher amongst Black 16-24 year olds than their White counterparts.  First release of Graduate Outcomes, which looks at what people are doing 15 months after leaving university, shows clear differences for some groups. The gap in the employment prospects for graduates from UK universities depending on gender and ethnicity have been underlined in the first release of a major new survey. According to Graduate Outcomes, on 18 June, White graduates were several percentage points more likely to be in full-time employment more than a year after leaving university. The data also shows other persistent inequalities – such as the gender pay gap, with male graduates being paid 10 per cent more than female graduates overall.

Inequality affects all levels of qualification

This is not just about higher numbers of Black graduates failing to find jobs, it applies at all levels of qualification. White people in the UK face lower unemployment rates than other ethnic groups, regardless of their qualification level. For example, only 3% of White people in the labour market with a Level 4 qualification or above are unemployed. But this figure rises to 4% for people whose ethnicity is Asian, 5% for those of a Mixed Race and other ethnic background, and 6% for Black people. The same patterns apply to all levels of qualifications, with White workers most likely to be employed, and Black and Mixed-Race workers the least likely.

We have to do more to counter this injustice.

At The Careers & Enterprise Company, our work is focused on enabling schools and colleges to deliver outstanding careers education to their students, providing them with the tools and connections to undertake this critical role. There are a number of solutions to this challenge that we must undertake, all aligning directly to our priorities as an organisation.  

  1. Targeted support through Careers Leaders

Careers Leaders in schools and colleges play a pivotal role in delivering careers education. We will enable them to provide greater levels of targeted support for their students and the choices that they make. We know that a one-size fits all approach is not good enough. Students have different career guidance needs at different stages. Opportunities for advice and support should be tailored to each of these stages, with diversity and equality embedded in the school’s careers programme. We will increase the focus on diversity and inclusion in the range of training and professional development opportunity we facilitate for them.

We will also enable our digital platform, ‘Compass+’, to provide the structure for Careers Leaders to understand best practice and resources, self-assess their own provision and plan improvements, all linked to individual students through the integration with their information systems. The destinations that students’ progress into after secondary education is already a key measure in the framework that Careers Leaders use to measure the impact of their work and we’ll apply an even greater focus to this in our work. 

By enabling this key cadre of professionals to be more confident and equipped to identify the diversity of challenges that young people from different backgrounds face, young people will benefit from a more nuanced level of support to enable them to make informed decisions.

  1. Recruiting more Enterprise Advisers from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds

We will recruit more Enterprise Advisers from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Enterprise Advisers are volunteers from business supporting individual schools and colleges with the development of their careers plans. This skilled volunteer base has grown to 3,000 over the last few years but only around 8% are from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. As we expand this network further over the course of the coming academic year, we must and will do more to recruit a more diverse range of volunteers.

  1. Using a diverse range of voices to showcase employer engagement

We will showcase best practice in employer engagement with diverse communities, including examples from our 230 Cornerstone Employer partners across the country. Cornerstone Employers are a key group of businesses that work in local areas of need to engage the wider business community in the delivery of careers education and are at the forefront of best practice.

As an employer ourselves, our new diversity and inclusion strategy will go further and model the best practice across all employers. We must lead by example. Our governance and advisory groups must reflect the communities that we serve – we will actively enable a clearer youth voice to shape our work. 

While we take the time to pause and reflect – we are determined to create clear, tangible actions as a company. Our responsibility sits both individually and collectively to make such critical changes to avoid further inequalities being repeated for another generation.