Catherine McGuinness: Narrowing the skills gap


AS students and teachers enjoy the half term break, minds will begin to turn to spring examinations, and for the older students higher education and employment opportunities.

Figures released by UCAS last week show that the number of people seeking places at UK universities has fallen for a second consecutive year, with a rise in international demand failing to make up for a decline in applications from students in the UK. But the increase in international applications shows us that the UK remains one of the most attractive destinations in the world for talented students.

Research shows that students from more affluent families are still twice as likely to apply for university courses than those from socially disadvantaged groups – an unacceptable figure which we must change.

Social background should not determine academic opportunities and it’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that the best people from all walks of life get the opportunities based on their talent.

Here at the City of London Corporation we continue to drive forward plans to enable young people from the Square Mile to have access to excellent education, work experience and jobs.

In 2017/18 the City Corporation’s academies, which we sponsor across Hackney, Islington, Newham and Southwark, were some of the top-performing schools in the country for student progress. Our schools are in some of the most deprived areas of London. But through quality leadership and teaching we can provide first-class education which enables all young people to benefit.

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Catherine McGuinness with Jeremy Corbyn, and former Lord Mayor Dr Andrew Parmley with staff and a student from City of London Academy Highgate Hill.

On employment, we run a range of initiatives designed to boost skills and social mobility in the Square Mile, from our partnerships with City firms to tackle youth unemployment, through to apprenticeships, mentoring and paid work placements schemes. And we have pledged to employ and sustain 100 apprentices by the end of 2018.

Last year, in partnership with the Social Mobility Commission and the Social Mobility Foundation, we launched the world’s first Social Mobility Employer Index. It ranks the top 50 UK employers – many of whom are businesses based here in the City – who have taken the most action to improve social mobility in the workplace. It gives a real incentive for City firms to improve access to top quality jobs for candidates from all backgrounds.

For those of you who are concerned about the widening skills gap, this should come as encouraging news. More young people are keen to get straight into the workplace and learn on the job, which presents businesses with a valuable opportunity.

In addition to apprenticeships, many school leavers are opting to get involved in the increasing number of paid internships available in the City, either in the summer holidays or on gap year placements.

The straight to university route is still very much the norm and actively encouraged in UK schools, but students should not pass up the opportunity for a more hands-on internship or high-level apprenticeship.