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In conversation with Neil Willis, Regional Lead : Education Challenge at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, about the latest phase of Opportunity North East

Created 13th April 2021


According to the London School of Economics and Political Science, one in 10 young people have lost their job since the coronavirus pandemic began. Proportionally, they are one of the hardest hit groups by the economic impact of COVID-19.

Supporting young people into employment, training and education will be vital for the UK’s economic recovery, and work carried out in the North East region through the Department for Education-sponsored Opportunity North East project is helping ensure more young people find a successful pathway to a rewarding career.

In September 2020 we began the delivery phase of the three-year project, which saw more than 800 students from 28 participating schools take part in the first in a series of personalised advice and guidance interviews with a qualified careers adviser. Each interview is designed to understand students’ current perceptions and understanding of careers, and the various routes into them.

To date we’ve completed two sets of interviews, which have provided some fascinating insight to help guide the third set of interviews this spring.

Using the data from the interviews, we’ve been able to map the sectors young people have expressed an interest in. What’s interesting is that there is a clear preference for careers in the creative, culture and leisure sectors. Interestingly, these are the sectors that have suffered the most during the coronavirus pandemic.

Alternatively, there was less interest in careers in advanced manufacturing, energy, and biologics, which are all high growth areas in North East England. This raises the question; are students less interested in these careers because they don’t understand the sectors and the range of roles, or is it that they don’t interest them in general?

We’re aiming to tackle that by working with sector leads to improve students’ understanding of these areas of industry and the opportunities within them. Similarly, we’ve shared the data and findings with Arts Council England and other partners in the arts/culture/creative industries to make sure there are opportunities for students to fully understand the sector and its careers options. It’s really important for young people to have access to this information so they can make more informed choices, particularly at school leaving age, as the career choices they make now can dictate their future path.

The data has also shown gender stereotypes still exist around particular industries and careers. Female students tend to lean more towards careers in education, creative/culture/leisure, and healthcare, whereas male students showed a preference for construction and public services, including uniformed services. That has led us to think about the opportunities on offer to students around some of the industries they’ve discounted. Have they made a decision based on outdated stereotypes for example, rather than being well informed?

There have been some positive changes from this initial piece of work. Between the first and second set of interviews, the proportion of young people unsure about plans post 16 has decreased, which has translated into 4% more students expressing a desire to stay on in 6th form.

The next cycle of interviews will focus on students’ aspirations at a job level so that opportunities to meet and question a person doing a similar job can be arranged.

Moving forward, as students transition into Year 11, we’ll be developing a more bespoke and tailored approach to ensure that all pupils have a post 16 plan based on informed choices. What we’re now able to do - based on the insight we’ve developed - is group students from across the region into interest areas, and target interventions so they reach the right students at the right time.

We’re also keen to make the data available to other organisations and businesses so it can be used to guide and influence engagement with schools and students around careers education. The project is giving us access to a live data set of more than 800 young people.

The Opportunity North East summary report is available to view on the North East Data Hub here.

If anyone would like more information about the programme, and how they can access the data, please contact me by emailing [email protected].


Created 1 month ago