With university fees still repellently high and an ever-increasingly competitive job market, are some of Croydon’s young people being left behind?  Last week I was invited on channel 5’s The Wright Stuff to discuss these issues with the panel.

While I’m a strong advocate for not allowing yourself to be limited by labels, it’s disingenuous to pretend race and class don’t play a role in social mobility. In 2017 it was reported that unemployment rates for ethnic minorities in the UK were at 12.9% compared to 6% for white people.* The point isn’t to turn this into an us vs. them debate but rather to look at the cold hard facts. It’s evidently still a large issue to be tackled. If young people from specific communities are given more hurdles to overcome, the old adage is likely to continue: the poor stay poor and the rich get richer.

The solution is of course far from simple and requires classism and institutional racism to be called out and dismantled. There needs to be change at every level; schools in low-economic areas must be given the means to provide the same quality of education found in affluent areas, employers must work towards diversity across their organisational hierarchy and ultimately government must encourage policy that enables such efforts. It takes a village to raise a child and as a youth worker myself, I get to play a part in that at the community level.

One of my roles at Reaching Higher is to improve the employability of the young people we work with. This also extends to giving young people an edge in their personal statements when applying for university. We hope to achieve this in a number of ways, but one of my favourite activities is our Immersion Days. These days are opportunities for young people to find out what it’s like to work in different industries. So far we’ve partnered up with both RBS and Havas London, to introduce some of Croydon’s teenagers to the banking and advertising worlds respectively. During the days we’ll have different staff share what they do and how they got there, as well as holding team challenges for the young people to work on, in Apprentice-esque fashion. We cover everything from CV and interviews to Linked In and networking. Most importantly, these days offer participants real tangible job and work experience opportunities in the follow up.

These immersion days are all about taking young people out of their immediate environments and opening their eyes to different possibilities for their lives. I often find for young people it’s difficult to aspire for something they don’t know. We aim to not only show them what’s possible, but also prepare and equip young people with the skills, experience and networks needed to achieve their aspirations. Since starting our Immersion Days in 2017, we’ve worked with over 60 young people from a variety of racial and economic backgrounds. Of these 60, 90% felt more prepared for interviews and writing their CVs and 80% felt more confident in applying for work or further study.

It’s only the beginning, but we’re doing what we can to level the playing field and give Croydon’s young people a better chance to succeed in life. As I mentioned on the Wright Stuff, the race for education and employment begins as soon as a child is born. Our job at Reaching Higher is to get everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender, economic background etc. to the same starting line. There’s a great video that demonstrates this very point. Although it has pretty cheesy American overtones, it is absolutely spot-on and actually pretty stirring:

* Statistics taken from the Equality and Human Rights Commission - https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/latest-projects/race-report-statistics