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Developing young people’s skills in Cambridgeshire to kickstart their careers

Alice Gilderdale, executive councillor for recovery, employment and community safety at Cambridge City Council, writes for the Cambridge Independent.

Cllr Alice Gilderdale. Picture: Keith Heppell. (59115253)
Cllr Alice Gilderdale. Picture: Keith Heppell. (59115253)

Cambridge City Council is rolling out a new approach to tackle the burgeoning demand to develop the skills of young people in Cambridgeshire and beyond.

Young people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with the Covid economic crisis worsening social mobility in Britain.

Between April 2020 and March 2021, young people (aged 18-25) who were in work before the pandemic were almost three times as likely to leave work than those aged 26 and over (16 per cent and six per cent respectively) according to research from The Resolution Foundation Think-Tank.

Alongside the pressures of a recession and sky-rocketing energy prices, the current job market is incredibly daunting. It is highly unlikely that the next generation will ever find themselves in a position where they have a job for life, which presents a huge challenge for us as a community to tackle together over the coming years.

Cambridge in particular is a place of marked inequality: the successes of this wonderful city, from the universities, world-leading teaching and research centres, and innovation, are rightly celebrated. However, despite all of this, in 2019, a report by The Children’s Commissioner found that Cambridge was the fourth worst performing area in the country for young people on Free School Meals (FSM), where half of all 19-year-olds who were eligible for FSM didn’t have a level 2 qualification.

On top of this, many are faced with premium housing and living and travel costs that come with living in the city.

Young people in the city who are not in education, employment or training are often facing complex challenges which go beyond access to education. For example, many young people are in this position as a result of familial caring responsibilities, illness or disability. Consequently, they have few opportunities to develop strong transferable skills such as adaptability, creativity, resilience, communication and interpersonal skills, which are so highly valued by employers.

The launch of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Region of Learning, Skills and Opportunity
The launch of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Region of Learning, Skills and Opportunity

As a young person who has benefited from many wonderful educational opportunities in this city, I feel passionately that these experiences are not just available to the most privileged in Cambridge.

I believe it is important to fight for fair pay and job security for workers in the city. However, across the country, too many young people are struggling to find good quality jobs where they are paid fairly and offered opportunities for meaningful career progression and professional development.

As the labour market evolves, and especially in Cambridge with fast-growing technology, creative and biopharmaceutical industries, job hunting these days means that candidates are required to display their problem-solving and creative skills to secure roles.

While qualifications are still important, it is examples of those transferable skills which are essential for someone to showcase their talent and true potential.

This is why projects such as Cambridge City Council’s new scheme, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Region of Learning, Skills and Opportunity, are so important. It aims to unearth all the hidden skills and talents of the young people in our community, and to let them take advantage of local jobs in the city.

A UK first initiative, Region of Learning uses digital badging to enable disadvantaged young people aged 13 and over to validate the skills and learning they have picked up outside of traditional learning environments, and provide them with pathways to new career opportunities with local employers across the region.

Since the launch of the scheme, it has been inspiring to see so many local educational institutions, businesses and local authorities come together to support young residents in the city, especially at times when many are facing real difficulty.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Region of Learning, Skills and Opportunity has already received amazing support from numerous organisations, from ourselves in the council to PwC, Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, Longhurst Group, Wysing Arts Centre, Living Sport and Cambridgeshire Constabulary, which have pledged to recognise digital badges on CVs, or to develop their own badges, thereby tailoring routes into their entry-level jobs.

Through this collaborative approach, together we can offer skills, confidence-growing and resilience to young people, fostering skills and learning that doesn’t only happen within a classroom, and making the world leading career opportunities in Cambridge and beyond accessible to everyone, no matter their background.

Young people and organisations can get involved in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Region of Learning, Skills and Opportunity by visiting xpcambs.co.uk.

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