Due to COVID-19, schools across the UK have had to change the way they operate but that does not mean shutting the door on vital careers education.

Research from the Education and Employers Taskforce shows that a young person who has four or more meaningful encounters with an employer is 86% less likely to be unemployed or not in education or training and can earn up to 22% more during their career. Well-planned employer encounters can help address the imbalance in the under-representation of women and minority groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

Normally employer encounters would be structured within the school curriculum, but COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have, for the vast majority of pupils, shifted learning online.

Social background has a profound effect on progression in learning and work and this divide has been fuelled further during lockdown, with working class pupils disproportionally affected. However it is precisely this group of children that will gain most from employer encounters, broadening horizons and appetite for future careers success. King’s College London’s Aspires project found that students with low social capital stand to benefit most from improved careers education and links between education and employers.

Here in Hertfordshire, students have been thrown a virtual careers education lifeline during lockdown, thanks to a series of webinars featuring interviews with local employers provided by Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Hertfordshire Opportunities Portal (HOP).

The webinars are closely aligned to growth sectors identified in Hertfordshire LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan, ensuring that young people find out about career opportunities close to home. These include life sciences, advanced manufacturing, construction and film and TV.

Guest speakers have included a graduate mechanical engineer from multi-national engineering firm AECOM, a business degree apprentice from world-leading missile systems company MBDA, an NHS junior doctor, and two scientists from multi-national pharma company GSK and cell and gene therapy SME Autolus.

The webinars aim to inform students of the realities, rewards and challenges of the featured sectors and professions. Students are able to attend live and interact directly with employers through asking questions.

Specific careers have also been in the virtual spotlight. Simon Shepard, CEO of Optima-life and member of the Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce, spoke about his experience as a chartered physiotherapist and business owner. He said: “One of Optima-life’s goals is to build bridges between health, education and community and the session was an ideal opportunity to do this. It was great fun and I was blown away by the level of questioning - the students were fantastic.”

All the webinars can be found on HOP’s website and YouTube channel, and provide a permanent careers resource that will continue to reach and inspire young people after the live sessions are finished.

If you would like to inspire the next generation of talent, contact: hopinto@hertfordshirelep.co.uk

Find out more about how we are supporting businesses, residents and employers at www.hopinto.co.uk.