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STEER's reply to the Queen's speech - By Josie Rothera

We *love* lifelong learning, but a gap remains to support undergraduates into industry roles

The Queen’s speech yesterday (12 May 2021) was met with support from the built environment sector. Intentions to ‘level-up’, strengthen transport routes and simplified procurement practices meant positive steps for all types of built environment businesses, supported by Bills.

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill was of key interest to us at STEER Mentoring and Support CIC: a legislation that seeks to encourage lifetime skills engagement by promoting accessible education and training. Included in this Bill are reforms to the current student loans system, repositioning employers to lead input into training programmes and the ongoing design of new T Level courses.

A great driver for the new Bill was the statistic that “50 per cent of young people who do not go to university have been historically deprived of the chance to find their vocation and develop a fulfilling, well-paid career”. It is important that this is addressed for all sectors.

However, a gap remains around how we support our undergraduates into the industry. At a time where students are finding it hard to secure work placements, or any sort of work experience, and are coming into an industry that is still restarting and resetting from the pandemic, why is this group still being overlooked? The reform in the Skills White Paper set out:

The challenges of the last year highlight the need to rethink and rebuild, bringing our skills and education system closer to the employer market and widening the opportunities that are available for all as we build back better from the pandemic. A third of working-age undergraduates are not in highly skilled employment, and in 2019 employers were unable to fill a quarter of their vacancies due to a lack of employees with the right skills.

The Graduate Outcomes published in 2020 found 78% of graduates in the built environment are working in high skilled occupations, and over two thirds in professional body aligned occupations, however this is still short of the estimated annual recruitment rate from the CSN 2019-23 Report. 15% of graduates also thought that they were not using what they learnt from their university courses. A better understanding of this could equip course teams to identify areas for improvement in their delivery.

Experience on your CV is becoming a must for employers and this is so relevant to the built environment. Having an appreciation of roles, practices and delivery modes will set one undergraduate from another. A year out in industry is valuable, but not everyone has the opportunity to do this – so how do we support undergraduates to industry?

Mentoring is a great way for informal, friendly insights to the industry. It allows you to explore more the roles and opportunities, and importantly helps start your professional network. Mentors often give their time freely, over and above their day jobs, and that is because they have a passion for their work and making sure that more people choose a career in the industry. They can also help shape degree course programmes to ensure relevance to current practice.

If you are mentoring, great! If you are not seeking opportunities to help undergraduates, then, could you? They need our support now more than ever – and we need them!

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