Chairman of The John Lewis Partnership Sharon White writes in the Times, why the Partnership is working with local authorities and charities to help care-leavers carve out careers with the Partnership.
John was in care from the age of six to 25. He’d lived in 22 different homes during that time, mostly with foster carers but he was also adopted and lived in a residential setting.
He had a number of jobs before he joined the John Lewis Partnership. He left, and then returned, because he found a sense of belonging in the Partnership’s values and employee ownership.
After working in Waitrose and John Lewis branches, he now leads our work to help care-experienced people to gain the skills and experience to set them up in their careers. John is thriving, learning the skills that he’d never had the opportunity to pick up from 19 years in care and he wants other care-experienced people to know that we are seeking their potential.
John is one of the over 10,000 bright and talented young people who leave the care system every year. One of the 10,000 young people who have the potential but too often struggle to get the opportunity. One of the young people that we want to have as future employees - or Partners in our business - at the John Lewis Partnership.
Our constitution, the guiding principles for how we run our business, requires us to ‘contribute to the wellbeing of communities in which we operate.’ This goes back to our historic mission of improving social mobility - before it was called that. We provided health care benefits before the NHS and accommodation for young women who worked in our shops so they didn't face lone journeys after work.
That’s why we are now running pilot schemes to help care-experienced people to gain skills and experience to set them up in their careers. The pilots are also helping us to learn more about the challenges these young people face as they come out of care. We want to be a welcoming place for everyone and especially for young people who, through no fault of their own, haven't had opportunities elsewhere.
Sadly, care leavers have been forgotten in the national effort to improve social mobility. A staggering 40% of care-experienced people are not in education, employment or training. They don’t have the luxury of calling on a network of friends and family to help them into work. The stop-start to education seen from Covid is likely to have made the situation worse.
Too many care-experienced people are left at a cliff edge. Their support from social workers or advisors vanishes overnight when they turn 25. This is the social mobility scandal.
To see what can be achieved with a targeted plan, look no further than Timpsons. The repairs retailer has focused on getting ex-offenders into work with considerable success.
Employers, schools, councils and charities are just a few of the many organisations involved at different stages in a young person’s life. It’s the gaps between these stages that mean so many looked after children with great potential fall through the cracks.
So there’s power in all of us joining up. We want to work with more Local Authorities and charities across the country to support people who are leaving care into the workplace.
Of course, this will take time and we are learning along the way. But one thing we’re clear on is that we all owe it to care leavers to be a consistent presence in their life. So many young people who’ve been through care have been let down numerous times in their lives and there’s work for us to do to build their trust in us and their aspirations, starting from school.
As employers, we must be mindful that it’s not enough simply to offer job opportunities. There is much more to be done on safe housing and financial and emotional support for people who have already gone through so much at such a young age.
But for now, we’re saying to everyone who’s experienced a childhood in care, we believe in you and your potential. Tell us how we can help you realise that. Everyone deserves a fair start in life. We owe it to our young people to make this a reality for all of them.