How can we engage future leaders in the West Midlands?

Last month saw the virtual Midlands UK Forum for Growth conference take place over a period of three days and junior account executive, Leah Benthin, tuned in to a session on what needs to be done to ensure there is a talent pool of future leaders in the West Midlands.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has left many young people struggling to break into the world of work and connect with opportunities. However, now that many businesses are back on their feet, it’s vital they engage with young people and make them aware of the opportunities available to them, in order to encourage good economic growth for the future.

So how can we engage future leaders in the Midlands?  Here’s our 5 key takeaway learnings:

1. Approaching young people early

Young people generally first begin thinking about career opportunities in the final years of school, so businesses need to ensure they’re properly engaging with schools to show what opportunities are out there.

Whether it’s picking up the phone to high schools across the country, advertising work experience or internship programmes through schools, or physically going in to do talks, getting involved with young people at school level is a vital step in encouraging them to join the West Midlands workforce.

It is also important to consider that young people talking to other young people is more impactful, so those who are already in junior roles need to have the confidence to go into schools and discuss what’s available, allowing others to follow in their footsteps.

2. Learning and development for young people 

In order to prepare them for the world of work, young entrepreneurs in the West Midlands need more support throughout their school, college and university education. For example, giving them guidance on how to apply for jobs, how to do well in tests, and having interviews will give them the skills they need to secure opportunities in the first place.

There also needs to be a commercial awareness in young people about what the world of work is like and the environment that we’re currently living and working in. Digital skills are more important than ever so schools must have an agenda in place to teach young people these skills.

Digital interviews and virtual work experience are now becoming the norm, so our future leaders need to be prepared for these difficult processes and how to use them to progress in their careers.

3. Equal opportunities 

One third of the population in the Midlands are under 25 and a further one third of these are children who are not at the required social, physical and intellectual level to begin school, proving that the region is facing real challenges with disadvantaged children. Even at this level, more work needs to be done to ensure these children are brought into the education system in a more powerful way.

Education is accessible to all, however the pandemic has highlighted that there is a gap in equal opportunity. For example, when it comes to the issue of the affordability of tech equipment, schools must work more closely with students from disadvantaged backgrounds who find themselves having to isolate, so they can access tech equipment and continue to learn from home.

But it isn’t just at school level that improvements need to be made. Businesses in the West Midlands need to consider if their growth plans cater to everyone in the region and are inclusive of all communities, in order to provide people with the best opportunities. Some communities have been hit worse by the pandemic than others and are facing higher levels of unemployment, and businesses must recognise this when offering new opportunities.

4. Digital skills

Nearly everything in the world of work is now digital, including co-ordination between schools and leaders and the way that young people must apply for internships and graduate programmes.

As a result, we need a larger workforce in the technology sector who can support these ways of working, but students appear to be suffering from opportunity perception issues – they’re simply not seeing the opportunities that are out there or are put off by the word ‘technology’.

It needs to be communicated better, by schools, universities and businesses in the West Midlands, that there are careers in tech involving things other than coding, in order to get young people interested in the industry.

5. People skills

Contrary to popular belief, young people are not just hired purely based on their grades but also on their personality – and candidates need to be made aware of this!

When completing the final years of their school education, it can be very easy for students to think their whole life depends on their A-Level grades, so there needs to be more education surrounding the other things businesses look for in young people.

Students need to know that businesses are looking for young people who are eager to learn and put themselves out there when looking for opportunities – first impressions can sometimes be just as important as grades.

The future of the West Midlands

So, what do young people already working in leadership roles in the West Midlands want to see in the future, to ensure that we have a talent pool of future leaders?

Their advice to current leaders is to ensure that young people are introduced to decision-making spaces, giving them the skills and tools they need to lead the West Midlands. Businesses must get out there and speak to these young people, engaging with them from the very beginning of their career journeys.

Furthermore, business leaders shouldn’t underestimate young people as they are hugely important; to grow a business you need the right people, and the talent is right here just waiting for an opportunity. We must give these young people the opportunities they deserve and allow them to take the reins of their future – after all, they are the future.

Looking for work experience opportunities in PR? At Liquid we are passionate about training and development and support school leavers and university students each year through mentoring and placements.

In 2021, we will be hosting two virtual work experience sessions which will allow young people to gain valuable understanding and experience in the communications industry. Find out more and sign up here.