Stark warning from head of local college group in Midlands Engine report

Midlands Engine Angela Joyce

The Coronavirus pandemic has created a ‘COVID Generation’ of education leavers who have worked hard for their qualifications but have few jobs to go into, a top education CEO has stated.

Angela Joyce, Chair of the Midlands Engine Skills Board and CEO of WCG (formerly Warwickshire College Group) made the claims in the September edition of Midlands Engine Observatory’s Economic Impact of COVID-19 Monitor.

The Monitor warns that many young people will face unemployment over the next few months as they try to compete for very few jobs on the market.

This is combined with the Midlands economy being hardest hit by the pandemic, resulting in job losses and some industry sectors struggling to recover.

With some 132,000 graduates completing their studies from Midlands universities this summer, evidence also points to many graduates who have not been able to find jobs that matched the degree they had earned.

The report states that further education will be in higher demand as many people who are out of work look to improve their prospects through upskilling and reskilling.

Joyce said: “The pandemic has created a ‘COVID Generation’ – young adults completing studies at college and university who are now unable to gain employment.

“The summer 2020 examinations process has failed many young people, narrowing their choices and their next steps, although the full impact of this is not yet known. And around one and a half million Midlands workers have been furloughed during the pandemic, with lower qualified workers now most at risk of losing their jobs.”

The Midlands Engine COVID-19 Monitor highlights that the closure of schools between March and June accentuated existing inequalities between students, increased the likelihood of students suffering with their mental health, and impaired the development of social skills, especially in younger children.

It shows the changing of A-level grades at the last minute has meant grades are 14 per cent higher than last year – meaning students who may not have earned such a high grade had they sat an exam could struggle at college or university.

While showing that the rate of new apprenticeships declined significantly as businesses ceased activity, while many existing apprentices were furloughed or made redundant.

There is a concern that the pandemic will cause a continued significant fall in apprenticeship starts in the Midlands Engine region compared to last year.

And for university students, fewer term-time jobs have been available to support their income, which has disproportionally affected students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Rachael Greenwood, Director of the Midlands Engine, said: “One of many strengths of our region is the high proportion of young people in the Midlands – but the findings of our review into the impacts on young people and employment opportunities are deeply worrying.

“An unwavering focus on investment at scale is needed now to make sure our college leavers and university graduates have the opportunities they deserve, to apply their skills and knowledge in good quality jobs.”

The report indicates clearly that both employers and graduates will need to look much more flexibly at transferable skills between sectors and the business benefits to be gained from bringing in new recruits with diverse knowledge and skillsets.

Joyce stresses that if the Midlands can focus on providing the right training for its young people, the damage caused by the pandemic can be somewhat mitigated.

She said that skills policies should support technical education, focus on apprenticeships as a way into employment, support upskilling and learning new skills, and seek to capitalise on the powerful partnerships that already exist between higher and further education and industry.

She added: “We need training that is focused on job creation, on the needs of our industries and on accelerating economic recovery. It is time for a step-change – time for tailored approaches which actively support individuals, businesses and our region.

“The Midlands Engine Partnership is well placed to support economic recovery across the Midlands – a region which is diverse in its population, its industry and which is essential to the future success of the UK.”