Guest blog from Baroness Doreen Lawrence OBE - Founder, Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.

Last Thursday I joined Peabody at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) for the second "Activate" roundtable. This featured a stimulating discussion on how to address the barriers faced by disadvantaged young people in accessing professional careers.

Roundtable summary report (pdf, 111kb)

The event brought together 30 stakeholders who shared their thoughts and experiences of working to create opportunities for young people

What are the barriers faced by young people?

Young people face several barriers to accessing professions, including a lack of academic qualifications, aspiration, suitable role models, and a lack of access to careers advice. In some cases discrimination is a factor too.

We know that these barriers are greatest for young people from the poorest backgrounds. Only 21% of the poorest fifth manage to attain five A*-C grades at GCSE. These young people have much further to travel to achieve their aspirations than their middle class compatriots, even just to reach the starting line. 

Once a young person has left education it can be hard to find advice on what they should do next. The level and quality of careers advice provision is inconsistent, and in some cases can further entrench certain perceptions about what young people from certain backgrounds can achieve.

There are strong business imperatives for employers to recruit from the widest pool of talent in order to find the best candidates. However, many professions have a tendency to recruit people who have similar backgrounds and experiences as they do. All too often it is not what you know but who you know. 

As a result, young people from deprived areas increasingly see senior figures who do not represent them, and whom they cannot identify with, helping to create the idea for many that these careers are either beyond their grasp or simply not for them. 

Many young people also face "postcode discrimination" as employers assume that they are not going to perform well because of where they are from. These perceptions can impact on young people who may seem confident when they are on "home turf", but lost when they go outside of their local area. 

How can we address these barriers?

At the roundtable we heard examples of good practice from organisations across the education, housing and the voluntary sectors. Some of the best examples featured organisations working closely with professional employers to promote and highlight the options available to young people from an early age. This allows young people to make the right decisions when they are choosing their GCSE and A-Level qualifications (or equivalents).

However, there is more which can be done to break down the barriers.

I would like government to do more to ensure the consistency of careers advice and ensure that young people are taught employability skills. Educational establishments themselves also need to work to deliver qualifications which offer training linked to real career options.

I believe further work should also be done to highlight alternative entry routes into professional careers, such as apprenticeships. These alternative routes are equally valid and need to be seen as being so, particularly amongst parents and family members who influence the decisions made by young people.

Work also needs to be done to reach out to those who have successfully gained entry into the professions to highlight how they got there, and also to help the next group of young people up the ladder.  

At the roundtable we heard the inspiring story of Tendai Mutyasera, an architect who the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust supported through his undergraduate architecture studies. Tendai is now a successful architect who has worked on a range of high level projects across the world. He is also a passionate advocate of opening up professional careers for people from non-traditional backgrounds like himself. 

Events like the Activate roundtable help to bring together people like Tendai and some of the organisations which work day-in day-out to expand the opportunities of disadvantaged young people. I look forward, with the help of Peabody, to build on some of these relationships to ensure that people of all backgrounds are able to realise their aspirations.

Baroness Doreen Lawrence OBE - Founder, Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.

Roundtable summary report (pdf, 111kb)