Invest now in region’s youth to avoid future skills gap, warns Bristol children’s charity

©Barbara Evripidou/

Bristol-based education charity Ablaze is calling for companies across the South West to invest in the development of secondary school pupils to avoid the next generation of candidates lacking the skills they need to thrive in the workplace.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented levels of disruption to schools and their pupils. The majority of students relied on remote learning during the multiple lockdowns since March 2020 in addition to missing out on gaining work experience, which in turn impacts confidence in future career prospects.

The charity cites London School of Economics research highlighting the growing educational disparities between privileged students and those from poorer backgrounds, as almost three quarters of private school pupils benefited from full days of virtual teaching during lockdown, compared to 38 per cent from state schools.

Ablase Mentoring_39To combat the negative impact the pandemic has had on secondary school students, and the potential impact it could still have on their career prospects, Ablaze Bristol is calling for local businesses to support its West of England Mentoring (WEM) scheme. The sessions provide 12–15-year-old students with access to local professionals to help plot out a career path post-GSCE, with 69 per cent of pupils saying the sessions left them with a better plan for post-GCSE, while 94 per cent felt better about school after participating.

Samantha Morgan, a local parent of a pupil who took part in a virtual WEM scheme, said: “When my son told me about the programme, he said he was really nervous, particularly as he finds speaking to people he doesn’t know difficult. A couple of weeks in he said he was starting to really enjoy it and he was getting knowledge about all the different things you could do, how to get there and how to think about his future. In his words, ‘it’s great to see into my future.’”

Sally Melvin, CEO of Ablaze Bristol, said: “The unprecedented disruption COVID-19 has caused students is further reaching than solely academic attainment. The lack of time in school has also negatively impacted their ability to acquire knowledge and attributes that set them up for the world of work, whether that’s work experience or one-on-one sessions with career advisors. I have no doubt that this will result in an increased skills gap without the support of local businesses taking part in our mentoring scheme. The sessions are pivotal in the development of pre-GCSE pupils, while organisations see the benefits of getting involved too, both in terms of the perception of their social responsibility and in attracting the next generation of employees.

“It’s a great way to be introduced to a school in your local area and build meaningful relationships with prospective candidates. Some of our mentor partners enter into work experience agreements with schools, which provides them with the opportunity to appreciate the different avenues into the workplace, from university and apprenticeships to roles which don’t require higher education.

“With the negative impact the pandemic has had on students, especially those from poorer backgrounds, it’s vitally important that students across the South West have access to mentors as early as possible in the new academic year. That will only be possible with the help of professionals throughout the region.”

Ablaze is an independent charity tackling inequality of opportunity for young people in Bristol and the surrounding region.

Since 2005 the charity has supported thousands of young people throughout Bristol by delivering Ablaze programmes in schools.