The Association of Colleges (AoC) is predicting that half of the new labour market entrants - approximately 100,000 16- to 25-year-olds - will struggle to find meaningful employment as the economic shocks of COVID-19 continue to bite.
As a result, Jisc is supporting the AoC’s call for government to guarantee access to high quality education or training places this autumn to every young person who wants one.
There are likely to be fewer job and apprenticeship opportunities and major challenges in re-starting education and training after months of lockdown. In a depressed labour market, this cohort will also be competing against recent graduates and more experienced staff who have lost their jobs.
The AoC’s chief executive, David Hughes, has asked Gavin Williamson, secretary of state for education, to deliver a ‘September Promise’ guaranteeing education or training places for all who want one.
He has also asked that some of the £1.5bn announced by the government in the March 2020 budget for college capital investment is brought forward so that it can be used to purchase IT equipment and software, as well as making necessary building modifications to embed a mixture of online and in person learning.
Mr Hughes said:
“We know from previous recessions that disadvantaged young people disproportionately suffer, not just in the immediate aftermath of an economic downturn, but often for the rest of their lives.
"This is our chance to break that cycle for good. A ‘September Promise’ of high-quality education and training would reduce the risk of long-term economic scarring, and make sure that businesses have the skilled workforce needed to facilitate economic growth.
“Colleges across England educate and train 2.2 million people each year. They are uniquely placed at the heart of their communities, they have the facilities, the expertise and the enthusiasm to support this extra cohort of young people, they just need the investment from the government to make it happen.
“A September Promise would give hope to a generation of young people currently worried about their career prospects now and in the future. It will be they who rebuild the country after COVID-19 but only if we put the support in place now.”
Jisc’s managing director for FE and skills, Robin Ghurbhurun, said:
“I strongly believe that our young people should have every opportunity to continue studying in September – thus gaining the skills and knowledge they will need to thrive in the workplace when the UK is ‘open for business’ once again.
“Government funding is crucial here, not only to ensure there are enough courses available, but also to provide the associated extra IT equipment and software.
“This is particularly important for disadvantaged learners. The pandemic has already highlighted the plight of those who are less likely to have access to laptops and decent broadband connections while they are forced to study entirely off-campus, and I’m delighted we have successfully joined with the AoC in calling on government to make mobile devices available for free to disadvantaged students.
"We are now working with partners and telecoms companies to make education websites free to learners during lockdown.
“Now we must look towards next term: it’s not likely that campuses will be fully open again in September, so colleges need money now to effectively plan for a mixture of online and on-campus delivery.