A single newspaper headline has driven my work as a social entrepreneur since 2009: that one in six young people who are NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) died within ten years of dropping out of the system.
I was NEET myself at 16 years old living in a poor community in Manchester. Thankfully, through the YTS (Youth Training Scheme) of the 80s, a company specialising in education technology gave a young person like me a chance, providing an apprenticeship that kick-started my career. Unfortunately, friends I left school with didn’t fare so well, moving into underemployment and unemployment as they struggled to find their way into sustainable work. For some, as their aspirations and hopes faded, they moved into drugs, then to crime, for some leading to prison, for others suicide. Without my apprenticeship, could that have been me?
Seven years after starting the YTS scheme, in the early 1990s I became one of the UK’s first internet entrepreneurs by co-founding one of the first full-service digital marketing agencies, spending the next ten years driving the globalisation of the Internet with clients including Intel and Microsoft. A very exciting time – but also a very troubling time. I’d always believed in the utopian vision of the Internet and its benefit to society – equality of opportunity for all as you break down geographical barriers that hold people back. However, by 2004 I realised that we were heading to a dystopian future as youth unemployment and poverty continued to rise. It was that moment in October 2004 I resigned from my internet company and became a social entrepreneur, with a mission to tackle youth unemployment and poverty. But where to start?
I started by spending nine months studying youth unemployment, volunteering with youth charities and projects so I could work with unemployed young people from all social backgrounds. From conversations with these young people, I identified a serious problem we really needed to focus on – and that’s the skills gap holding young people back in the fourth industrial revolution, a time when they should be flourishing. The problem is systemic, and comes from the complexity of how skills and intelligence needs on the employer side have evolved over successive industrial revolutions:
- First industrial revolution – focussed on the body with physical skills
- Second industrial revolution – cognitive skills and your intelligence quotient (IQ)
- Third industrial revolution – soft skills and emotional intelligence (EQ)
- Fourth industrial revolution – digital intelligence (DQ)
The problem I realised from my research is that young people need to have a combination of IQ + EQ + DQ to be successful in the fourth industrial revolution. However, I could easily identify deficiencies in these quotients with the young people I was speaking with. I asked myself the question: “What’s the government doing about this problem with their training programmes for unemployed young people?”. Unfortunately, too much of the money dedicated to this issue was being given to providers who were just helping young people with their CVs, or training them on how to ace an interview, when what they really needed was upskilling in the different areas of IQ, EQ and DQ, depending on where they were trying to get to from a career perspective.
I decided to act by developing a new type of training that develops IQ, EQ and DQ in a single programme. The first prototype of this I delivered with a group of long-term unemployed youth whom, after completion, all moved into full-time employment. Encouraged by these early results, I dedicated the next four years to developing the model further. After completing a pilot, 126 long-term unemployed people moved successfully into work. The innovation was a new intervention that could pop up into any community and positively disrupt the path unemployed people were on, taking them into a new future that wouldn’t otherwise have existed.
Developing the model further, in 2019 I launched a new social enterprise called Techcentre Training, partnering with charities and housing associations to provide CPD-accredited online training courses to unemployed youth they were supporting. On launch, we were able to provide high quality courses on business skills and employability (developing EQ), and digital skills for business (developing DQ).
But… Why wait until youth become unemployed to provide further IQ, EQ and DQ skills development? Can we not do more whilst young people are still in education? Meeting with two schools with sixth form students to discuss, the skills gap issues I had identified quickly resonated with them, with one teacher telling me: “As we start to send students out to work, many of them are lacking these basic skills, despite having done a series of pre-placement workshops.” The second school had also invested in pre-placement workshops, but highlighted that they are an expensive model, as they often require face-to-face time with local trainers and providers. After reviewing the CPD-accredited online courses we provided to unemployed youth, both schools invested instead in launching our courses to their students – the first school for their T-Level students, the second to all their sixth form students.
In order to reach as many young people as we can, we are now offering accredited online courses to both students and staff. Haringey Sixth Form College has seen the impact – on issues such as cyber security, safeguarding children and autism awareness. Russ Lawrance, Chief Executive & Principal of Haringey 6 shares: “Techcentre Training has provided Haringey Sixth Form College with dedicated eLearning suites with modules tailored to meet our requirements. I find it a secure, stable platform plus it’s an affordable model. We have been able to customise as appropriate to the needs for staff, trustees and students. The interface is responsive and the content excellent. We can also track progress and achievement.”
I believe this partnership approach, helping to upskill young people whilst in education with IQ, EQ and DQ, provides a better way to align the skills and intelligence needs of employers with the skills, knowledge and experience our young people have as they leave education. Ultimately, the aim is to reduce the risk of future young people becoming NEET and put an end to the statistic that one in six young people die within ten years of dropping out of the system.
You can find out more about the work of Techcentre Training with schools and colleges here.
David Barker is an Internet and Social Entrepreneur and founder of Techcentre Training. He was voted one of the UK’s top 30 social entrepreneurs in 2020 by the Social Entrepreneur Index.
Originally posted here