Written by David Roe, CSW Group Transitions Manager 

Recently I was invited by the Rural Services network to attend the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rural Services. I was asked to talk about the barriers young people who live in rural areas face when trying to access education, employment and training.

In this article I aim to outline what I found from my research for this presentation.

In preparation for this I sought feedback from a range of sources including a focus group of young people (kindly facilitated by Young Devon), the CSW team that work with young people in the South West and from Sharon Robbie, Managing Director of the Devon and Cornwall Training Provider Network who was able to give me the view from an employer’s perspective.

From this research I concluded that there are two main areas that have a big impact on young people in rural areas in terms of accessing education, employment and training but also services in general. These are the lack of public transport and the Lack of opportunity or sustainable opportunity.

Lack of Public Transport

Limited public transport impacts on a young person’s ability to find work, access education and training and also social opportunities which can lead to poor mental health. At the APPG three brave and inspirational young people talked about the issues they face living in rural areas. Transport featured heavily particularly being able to access medical appointments and social activities.

Often young people cannot afford public transport or wheels 2 work schemes that would enable them to widen their search for employment. The inability to travel for work means young people often have to look in their immediate surroundings for work, often applying to apprenticeships they can get to rather than what they are particularly interested in. This also causes an issue for employers who struggle to take on young people due to poor transport infrastructure. While researching for this presentation I was told of one example where an employer will not consider taking on a young person without their own transport as from experience they know they cannot get to work on time.

Young People often have to rely on family or friends for transport (if they have any) which then has to fit around their work (and other) commitments. This can severely hamper job searching, accessing education and training, social opportunities and medical appointments.

There were also reports that some young people lack confidence to access public transport which will narrow their opportunities even further.

Lack of opportunity or lack of a sustainable opportunity

In rural areas there are often less education providers than in urban areas limiting the choice for young people. Although there are a range of courses on offer what we have seen is that young people sometimes feel that they don’t want to engage with those providers and therefore face a long commute to a different provider or end up trying to find other opportunities for work which are scarce or hard to get to.

There are fewer apprenticeships available in rural versus urban areas. For example in April this year in Plymouth there were 139 apprenticeships versus 24 apprenticeships in North Devon and Torridge.

At the focus group with Young Devon some of the young people talked about the poor broadband speeds they experience. In a recent Telegraph article they report that statistics published by the county councils network show that more than two-thirds of England’s counties are below the national average download speed of 45mbit/s.  Poor broadband speeds will affect all aspects of young people’s lives including their social opportunities and ability to search for and apply for jobs.  If broadband speeds were better in rural areas could this stimulate technology based industries in the area? This could be one way of widening the available opportunities to young people and the rural population as a whole.

Many jobs are seasonal which can result in lack of stability. Young people often find themselves in a rut of working half of the year over busy periods and not being able to find work the other times of the year when holiday parks, restaurants, shops etc. potentially close or only keep a small number of staff. Young people often stay in these roles as it can be difficult to find permanent full-time contracts so work hard and long hours and save money to support them over the times that they are not working and are usually guaranteed work for when these employers are busy again. The problem is these jobs are often unskilled roles with little or no chance of training or progressing.

Due to this lack of opportunity many young people leave rural areas resulting in a so-called ‘brain drain’.

In some cases young people have the personal, social and/or financial resources to help mitigate the effects of living in a rural area. My concern however is that for those that have limited resources it their life chances are limited.

The meeting with the APPG was positive and the MPs and Lords seemed genuinely engaged particularly with the testimonies from the three young people. Alongside the APPG’s work to draw Government focus to rural issues in March this year the Rural Services Network launched a campaign calling on the Government for a rural strategy and in April the House of Lords Select Committee on the Rural Economy published its report under the heading “Time for a Strategy for the Rural Economy”.

I hope that the Government takes on board the calls for a rural strategy.

In the meantime the team at CSW will continue to support young people across the South West to get in to education, employment and training and be the best they can be.