Looking ahead to the future after finishing school or a university degree is daunting enough at the best of times – add a pandemic into the equation and it’s little wonder that many young people are, to put it lightly, apprehensive.
According to Prospects, only 17% of university, college and sixth-form students undertook work experience in (2020), with Covid-19 resulting in around a quarter of students losing work experience placements as businesses began to scale back operations and furlough staff. The consequence of this is these young adults, who represent the next generation of workers, miss out on the essential experience they need to further their careers.
Even more troubling is the impact Covid-19 has had on those with learning difficulties and SEN requirements. Before the pandemic, only around 5% of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 with a learning disability were known to be in paid employment. Of those who were employed, nearly three quarters (71%) had been impacted in some way ie being furloughed or lost income.
Jason Brown, contracts manager at national grounds maintenance specialist, Nurture Landscapes based in Windlesham, Surrey, explains how placements at Nurture are enabling those with special educational needs (SEN) to develop essential skills and build their confidence in preparation for further opportunities in the post-Covid era.
"As someone who lives with dyslexia myself, I know how difficult it can be to work with some form of disability. Fortunately, with Nurture, I’ve not only found a supportive employer but by overseeing our apprentice and internship programme, I’m privileged to help others who may not be as fortunate.
"To date, Nurture has one full-time intern in place, a figure which will increase to three come September, and five apprentices, many of which have some form of learning difficulty, working at our sites in Farnborough, Winnersh near Reading, and Chineham near Basingstoke. We also have four ‘adult learners’ with us – apprentices who are of a more mature age but who also have SEN requirements.
"From the first day, our interns and apprentices are made to feel part of our team. I personally work with each one to get a sense of what their ambitions are and how we as a company can work towards fulfilling those ambitions. Each individual embarks on a gradual learning curve; we start with the basics of grounds maintenance and work our way up together. This helps the apprentice to get a full picture of the work we do for our clients and build their confidence over a period of time.
"Studying the internationally-recognised RHS Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture our apprentices access a combination of practical modules, covering topics from preparing soil for planting to practical plant care. As our clients operate multi-acre sites, we also work towards helping our apprentices learning about the equipment we use, so that they can assist us in maintaining these sites when they are able to handle the tools safely.
"By having such a renowned course on their CVs, our apprentices are in a strong position to go on to full employment. It is also testament to their characters that they are all eager to learn, one even asking for an additional day during the May half-term holiday."
It is possibly too early to say for certain what the full extent of the Covid-19 impact is on internships and apprentices, but there are signs that they are coming back into employers’ minds. The widely renowned Bright Networks programme is set to resume from June and run through July, with 16 and 17 year olds eligible to apply for the first time. And with lockdown measures still on course to be lifted by the 21 June, there is every opportunity for individual programmes to return.
There is still a fair way to go until internships and apprenticeships are fully back to normal, however the talent is certainly out there and ready to take advantage of any open opportunities. At a time when everyone is getting back up to speed, younger people, especially those with specific requirements, should not be denied their potential.