Entrepreneur Alun Baker believes social networking is crucial for careers advice
Figures just published show that graduates are twice as likely to be jobless as other sectors of the populations. Graduate unemployment has doubled in the recession to its highest level for more than a decade and, given the spending review cuts, is unlikely to improve.
Also, 200,000 young people with the right grades failed to get into university this year. How will they make the right choices about what to do next? And how do school pupils get the best advice on their next steps?
Alun Baker, founder of online careers guidance network WYGU.com (When You Grow Up) believes the jobs crisis means that people in the UK need better advice than ever, but currently there’s little chance of that. Where will they go to find the advice they need?
“These shocking figures show that the UK is in danger of creating a lost generation," he says. "There is a black hole in careers guidance as government cuts over the past year bite into provision.
“We need to act quickly or risk losing a generation of young, bright people to long-term unemployment. Networks like WYGU can offer the right guidance from the best people at no cost. Online mentoring and development is clearly an answer to our young people’s needs.”
Government cuts will mean that up to 500,000 people in the public sector will lose their jobs over the next five years. Analysts have predicted a similar number losing their jobs in the private sector. Where will these people go for advice?
At the same time, studies show that young people believe that the UK careers advice system is failing them. Careers advice services in schools/colleges do the best they can but research shows they are failing. David Cameron is on record as saying that the current Connexions careers advice system is not working. So it's likely that cuts to Connexions advice services will further hamper careers advice provision.
The Government say that it wants to help but funds are limited. It wants people to embrace the idea of the Big Society and take action. This is why Alun Baker and his team, after two years’ development work, have launched WYGU. He describes it as a free “Facebook for careers” that harnesses the power of social networks to create a space where people of all ages can find the right advice, guidance and inspiration – at the right time.
It is one of a few forward-focused online careers networks that aim to harness social networking. Young people sign up for the free service and develop their own profile, using career-matching facilities to explore what suits their interests. They can join groups to develop contacts, take advantage of other facilities like blogs and wikis, keep up with relevant careers events and even get e-mentoring.
Supporters include sports broadcaster Andy Townsend
WYGU has attracted some high-profile supporters, who all believe that the concept of a sharing online careers advice and mentoring network can fill the gap. Like Andy Townsend, broadcaster and former professional footballer: “I think WYGU will make a big difference to people’s personal and professional lives as our career choices often shape our experiences. I know the value of a mentor when making difficult choices and I have benefited greatly in my own life from expert advice at the right time. I want my children to benefit from real advice and practical information before making their career choice, and WYGU will go a long way to helping them.”
Linvoy Primus, youth mentor, charity worker and former professional footballer says: “WYGU is needed now more than ever before as young people have to make their career choices sooner as the jobs market gets increasingly tough. I have been very blessed in meeting people who guided me in my early playing days and others who helped me through difficult times. Without them, I’m pretty sure that I would not be where I am today and I’m grateful to them for all their help and advice.”
Another key supporter is City of London police sergeant Jesse Wynne, who has a good story to tell about his life-changing career move from a position that had a six-figure salary. "Like many other students," says Jesse, "I took a summer job to help pay the bills while I was studying for my economics degree, working at an executive search firm. After graduating, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do and I continued to work in recruitment. My career progressed well and I moved to the world's largest executive search firm, earning a six-figure salary. Strange as it may sound, I always felt that I hadn't experienced all life had to offer, but it took the loss of my father to make me stop and re-evaluate my life.
"I decided to take a year out and try something I'd never done. I travelled the world, working to qualify as a dive instructor, and that experience gave me the confidence to go back to what I had always wanted – to serve my country in some way. I was too old to join the armed forces and so I enrolled to join the police. It took three years to get into the force, but today I'm doing something that I feel is valuable because I'm giving something back to society.
"Four years on, I'm a sergeant in the City of London Police, and although I'm not as well paid as I was in my previous career and life is not always easy, that's not a problem. I am fulfilled in my work and I try to pass that on by mentoring young people to help them realise their own potential.
'Move out of an accidental job and into a more inspiring career'
"I think WYGU is a perfect platform for anybody who, like me, wants to consider a change. WYGU mentors can help anyone looking for the right advice and guidance to help them move out of an accidental job and into a more inspiring career, or make the right choices before they make a mistake. It does this by connecting people with real world careers experience to those who need it most in an open and social environment."
Alun Baker believe that the confidence of some of the UK’s business leaders that the private sector can create enough new jobs to balance the losses caused by the Spending Review cuts is positive misses a crucial point.
“The fact is that there is a failing careers advice system in the UK and the cuts will not help that. It is very rare for people to find the right advice at the right time and from experienced people. Apart from the emotional turmoil this causes, the fragmented system is wasteful.
“The people who will lose their jobs as a result of the spending review cuts – and this is sure to go beyond the half a million public sector jobs – have a right to advice from the best people: Even without the Comprehensive Spending Review cuts, the system currently cannot give people the access to the right people at the right time so that they can make the right choice about the job that best suits them.
“This is unacceptable and I hope that new networks like WYGU.com will close this careers gap. Some of us can remember the person who made a big difference in our lives by guiding and inspiring us in our career journey. That type of support should be available to everyone, wherever they live and from whatever background they come from.”