Unlocking potential through virtual employability programmes

Virtual employability programmes can help employers access diverse talent and unlock potential, explains Rob Pope, EY Foundation Southern Hub Leader.

After taking part in a fantastic ISE webinar about helping young people into work, I wanted to share how the EY Foundation has responded to COVID-19 and the impact this has had on employers.


We are an independent charity and had to adapt to ensure employers could continue to support young people from low-income backgrounds. This had to happen quickly because of the disproportionately high impact the pandemic has had on the young people we work with.


All our programmes have gone virtual, with employer partners rising to the challenge by hosting virtual business experiences, contributing to the delivery of online skills sessions and mentoring young people.

Blue Prism’s virtual employability programme

An example is the technology company, Blue Prism. Ten young people took part in a fully virtual employability programme with online business experience that gave the young people key skills and allowed them to work on real life challenges set by Blue Prism. This included a Dragon’s Den challenge event where the young people developed a new business concept and presented back to a panel of experts.


Paul Wilshaw, Head of UX/UI at Blue Prism explains: 

The young people were absolutely amazing. Each one really engaged with the sessions, presenting back ideas and insight, in such a short period too, that were excellent. I can see a lot of those ideas being developed by companies and entrepreneurs today. Considering the new ways of working, they all adapted, and you could see their confidence grow. Engaging with young people is so rewarding and surprising, if any one of us can help by giving them advice or help with their network it will totally change their future.

Benefits of virtual employability programmes

Delivering online has not always been easy, but it gives clear benefits:


  • Physical space is not a barrier to bringing young people into the organisation (no room bookings or sorting out building passes!)
  • Wide range of employees with different expertise can join virtual activities to share their experiences
  • Opportunities for staff of all levels to get involved (whether as mentors for the young people or experts on judging panels)
  • There’s no such thing as factoring in travel time to events
  • Geographical barriers across the UK have been broken down and we have seen more and more direct involvement from senior stakeholders who otherwise may have found it difficult to find time

Diverse talent pipeline

By delivering a virtual employability programme, employers can interact with incredible diverse young talent and better understand the need to create a pipeline that brings these young people into their organisation. Employers are also more aware of the barriers facing young people as a result of COVID-19 and how they can start to remove them.


At the EY Foundation, we provide a bridge between young people and employers, operating several different partnership models, with recent relationships including technology company UI Path and the Met Police.


We’re also collaborating with employers on cross-sector initiatives in security, financial services and technology. Working together, we identify common challenges facing the sector, such as lack of diversity, unrepresentative talent pipeline and future skills gaps. We then design programmes that help young people living in poverty to access these sectors. And for employers it means unlocking alternative perspectives and new thinking.