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Getting real: Four careers lessons from Rio Ferdinand and BT

Derek Ray-Hill, London First Business Development Director


Even before the EU Referendum result last June, London’s skills gap was a hot topic. Now that Article 50 has been triggered, it’s more like an inferno.

Anyone who needs to employ a lot of people into a wide range of jobs, will be frustrated at the slow progress on; 1) assurances on access to international talent 2) confusion around the Apprenticeship Levy and 3) continuing government cut backs to careers education and skills programmes.

Partnership in action

So, it was inspiring to join London First partner BT and the Rio Ferdinand Foundation to celebrate some of the young people making impressive steps in their career journeys. Hearing about successful cross-sector partnerships like this is vital for those of us keen to up-skill young Londoners for the jobs our capital is crying out for.

London First and its flagship jobs and careers event, Skills London, will do a lot to help create the right policy framework and investment in London, amongst everything else that needs to happen. But, the call to action from this event was simple – don’t wait to do something. There is a lot that we can do right now.

Early Role Models

First, a shout out to Rio and his team for their unwavering commitment. Once the world’s most expensive football transfer, Rio has always been a Southwark man. He says that if he hadn’t made it as a footballer he would have been one of the community care workers that inspired him whilst growing up on a Peckham estate.

This leads to the first ‘get real’ lesson: who you want to become is shaped by those who inspire you at a young age.

Today, the Rio Ferdinand Foundation has helped around 1,000 young people get ‘work ready’ and into employment. BT are key partners, offering funding, in-kind support, work experience and jobs. The Foundation’s programmes are now expanding from London to other cities across the UK.

Riopanel2We heard from the Minister of State for Digital and Culture, the Rt. Hon Matt Hancock, who admitted to once missing a pivotal TV appearance because his alarm didn’t wake him up. A key lesson there on getting the basics right, however far along your career path!

Former Education Secretary and Labour MP, Alan Johnson was one of the panellists. MP Johnson was orphaned at 12, brought up by his older sister (then just 16) in a council flat, went to grammar school, got a job at Tesco at 15 and joined the Post Office at 18.

‘Get real’ lesson 2: there have always been a lot of pathways to a successful career. But it starts with a job. Any job.

We also heard from Liz Williams, who oversees BT’s digital literacy programme. As well as making a difference to young people, the programme helps BT improve community profile, connect with customers and find future talent. ‘

Get real’ lesson 3: We don’t have to wait for government action to start getting more people into work.

Careers guidance that works

What made the biggest impact on me was young people telling their own stories. We heard from award-winning Kareem, who joked with Rio and sports presenter Jake Humphrey about the poor careers advice he received at school.

Until he came across the Foundation, Karim really didn’t want to work. Not because he was lazy or unskilled. He just had the wrong idea about what work was; what he would be good at; and the type of people who got jobs in London. ‘

Get real’ lesson 4: give young people a bit of belief! Get behind them, give them decent careers guidance, and some clear pathways to upskill and interview well. They’ll then do the rest themselves.

There are hundreds of thousands of people aged 16-24 across the country who we can help get into work by providing practical support and inspiration.

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