Bridging Opportunity Gaps for Young Londoners with Access Aspiration

Student talks to employer sat down in classroom setting
22nd January 2024
Poonam Gill is the Mayor’s Fund for London’s Business Engagement Manager. Stewarding our business partners on the Access Aspiration programme and linking Young Londoners to meaningful employment encounters and placement opportunities. Poonam writes of the importance and impact of the programme to both the students and businesses that take part.

Each time I meet a student on the Access Aspiration programme, I am struck by their ambition, their drive, their enthusiasm and their curiosity to project themselves into meaningful careers. They are looking towards their futures in becoming an active member in London’s economy. But they don’t have the same access to social capital and connections that their more affluent peers have, in turn missing out on the opportunity to showcase their potential.

Let me tell you about one of our students on the programme. Her name is Vanessa and she completed a work experience placement at one of our partner law firms. To be accepted on a placement, students submit a short statement as to why they would like to work at an organisation. In her statement, Vanessa shared her story about a family member being incarcerated and how a placement like this would fulfil her hunger for understanding the criminal justice system.

After completing the placement, Vanessa shared with us that the experience was extremely useful: she was able to have conversations with solicitors about their work, why they chose to go into law and their pathway to getting there. During the week, Vanessa participated in group projects which helped build on team working skills, communication and planning. She also got to roleplay as a lawyer, delivering a presentation to a client to build on her confidence and public speaking.

This experience for Vanessa allowed her to not only develop vital skills for her future but equally important, instilled that self-belief and motivation to achieve her ambitions. She now has credible work experience that she can add to her CV and speak about during applications, giving her toolkit a boost.

The Impact

In our 2023 summer survey, 67% of students surveyed reported being unlikely to source work experience through their own connections. This highlights one of the challenges young Londoners from low-income backgrounds face in accessing the information and experience they want and need to build fulfilling careers for themselves. Only 17% of London’s professional jobs are occupied by people from lower income backgrounds compared to 30% nationally (One City, Two Worlds). The ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic has severely affected young people’s journey into work, and the cost of living crisis has further deepened inequalities (City and Guilds).

Working with businesses

We work closely with businesses to build a work experience offer that is meaningful and interactive, and true of the workplace. Through the 2,400 encounters we delivered last academic year, we have introduced employers to young people from backgrounds who may have never applied to their organisation before or found placements with them through previous networks. We provide tailored, best-practice guidance so they can support a young person in the workplace.  We also support employees to gain a heightened awareness to some of the challenges young people face. This not only informs a company’s equity, diversity and inclusion work but also provides employees with personal development opportunities. We are continually refining our employer guidance to help employers understand the needs of the next generation of their workforce.

We understand that businesses have been impacted by the pandemic and have changed their ways of working as a result. By working together, we have been able to offer students a dynamic work experience that is true to the world of work through hybrid working and flexible hours.

The offering for students

With most of our students having missed out on key educational milestones, and falling behind on their studies, we collaborate with business partners to offer opportunities where students are exposed to different social settings and the chance to build on their confidence levels in a supportive yet challenging environment.

With uncertainty for young people running high, work experience can provide a window to a diverse and functioning economy showing students the range of roles on offer and the businesses seeking motivated and educated workers. It’s a challenging time for students and we hope to continue working with our employer partners to offer them opportunities and the establishment of relationships, connections and experiences to launch them into their futures.

How to get involved

We are delighted to partner with a range of organisations that reflect the diversity of London’s business sector, job market and the career interests of the students themselves. Corporate partners pay an annual fee to participate, and we also work with a select group of public bodies, self-employed individuals and not-for-profits.

Throughout 2024 we will be running a series of cross-sector events titled ‘Bridging the Gap’. The first of these Bridging the Gap in the Legal Sector is supported Weil, Gotshal & Manges and will take place on Tuesday 27 February bringing together legal employers and early-career professionals to help students learn about routes into the industry and the array of opportunities available to them. To get involved email Poonam;

If you would like to find out more about becoming a partner please email

You can see a full list of Mayor’s Fund for London partners and funders in our annual organisational impact report.