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Big Four auditor EY established EY Foundation in 2014 as its dedicated, corporate charitable cause – but since 2016, we have operated as a fully independent body, with EY as our principal donor.

While most corporate foundations are essentially grantmaking entities, we do all of our direct programme delivery ourselves. We have a 40-strong team, and our primary focus is on providing careers-based guidance and the employability skills needed to make inroads into work for young people living in poverty, with free school meals used as our main benchmark for programme eligibility.

Aimed at a range of post-16 audiences, our programmes focus on the development of employability skills and knowledge, and are all accredited by the Institute of Leadership & Management.

We also introduce young people to employers in their local areas, and provide work experience opportunities – whether at EY, or an organisation outside the professional services. For example, we run work experience schemes in sectors such as care, technology and security, plus one with the Metropolitan Police.

Positive destinations

Our flagship, Institute-accredited programmes are:

1. Smart Futures Our longest running programme, supporting young people in Year 12 – so, the first year of college. Its purpose is not to put the learners into job roles, but to get them closer to work. Young people in Smart Futures may be doing quite well academically, but simply lack good opportunities because of their circumstances. So, we prepare them for work through a course of employability skills development – then they progress to our work experience and mentoring schemes.

2. Our Future covers people aged between 16 and 19 – so, a slightly broader range. This programme is designed for individuals with special educational needs – so, they may have behavioural issues or problems with school or college attendance. As such, it’s partly an educational retention scheme. But it aims mainly to ensure that the learners will have a positive work destination in place once they’ve finished their studies. These are young people who’ve been deemed at risk of going NEET (not in education, employment or training). So, the idea is to help them focus on the opportunities that are out there.

3. Your Future addresses the same age range as Our Future, and aims to help young people who are leaving school or college – but don’t have a destination in mind, aren’t particularly sure about what they want to do and haven’t got a job lined up. So, securing a job outcome is the primary focus. It launched in Easter, with five programmes running over the summer, and we have already seen some great results. The mentoring style in Your Future is much more focused on providing jobseeking support. It also includes a Recruitment Bootcamp – which involves replicating the recruitment process for any employment partner who takes part. This means the young people will know what to expect and be able to navigate the process when they apply.

4. Beyond Your Limits This is our only programme that’s not restricted to free school meals eligibility. It was co-designed in partnership with a brains trust of 80 care-experienced young people – which was quite an interesting experience! While it has some elements in common with the other programmes, it also includes things like financial literacy and cultural visits. It has quite a lot of optional content, according to what each learner wants to get out of the experience, and there is also more pastoral support.

The audience for Beyond Your Limits is young people who are coming out of the care system: all the systems and routines they are used to are gradually falling away, so this scheme helps them to focus on a work destination at that critical time. While the other three programmes last for between six and 10 months, this one runs for around two years.

Faith in strengths

Leadership can be a bit of an odd thing for young people – very often, when new learners come to us, they say, “Well, y’know, I don’t have any leadership qualities because I’ve never had a job!” Which is quite a self-deprecating way to put it. So, for us, it’s all about holding a mirror up to these young people and teasing out all the various things they’ve done in their lives that have a bit of significance attached, to show them that, yes – they do have leadership attributes! And then, give them confidence in those abilities.

That often involves pushing them out of their comfort zones. For example, we do Dragons’ Den-type events where they’ll present to a panel of quite senior business leaders, which can be particularly nerve-wracking and intimidating. But once they’ve been through those sorts of experiences, they can turn around and reflect on them with a new self-image and a faith in their own strengths.

We also introduce our young people to relatable role models: people from similar backgrounds who’ve done really well in their careers, and can therefore provide them with living, beathing evidence of tangible progress that will expand their notions of what the art of the possible means.

It’s a cheesy phrase – but also a very true one – that ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ Lots of young people have quite a small frame of reference, based on the sorts of paths they’ve seen family and friends take. So, bringing in mentors who may represent what they could be in 10 to 15 years’ time gives them a sense of what they may be able to achieve.

Bolder vision

At present, we’re helping around 2,300 young people per year – but we’ve just refreshed our ambitions for the next decade, and have big plans in mind. Our goal is to enable all young people who are eligible for free school meals to have access to employment. While a lot of that won’t be through direct programme delivery, we can certainly offer online help, and we are already working on a major influence strategy. The number of young people on free school meals is only going to get bigger and bigger – the issue isn’t going away anytime soon, so our long-term vision must also expand.

In the meantime, environments are very important for how we deliver our programmes. We use EY’s offices as much as possible, because those sorts of places can feel quite remote and inaccessible to young people. Inviting our learners into EY’s premises helps to demystify the financial sector’s big, glass houses and break down mental barriers. Plus, it’s important to show our learners that you don’t have to be an accountant to work in an organisation like EY! There are all sorts of other, supporting roles in areas such as IT, sales and marketing.

One of the most valuable messages we want young people to take away from their time with us is that no one ever really leaves the Foundation. Alumni are always contacting us on LinkedIn for bits of advice – and we are always glad to hear from them and eager to help.


Nahima: “Tech Futures [part of Smart Futures] helped increase my skill base, widen my knowledge of the industry, and showed me a career in tech is open to someone like me! My dream is to fulfil a career in marketing, working with products, big corporations and being digitally skilled enough to be able to promote myself to big roles within the field.

“Overall, the programme has prepared me for the world of work and made me excited to start my journey.”

Emmanuel: “[Our Future] was a great experience for me. I got the chance to work with lots of great colleagues, helping me build my teamworking skills and learn how to work alongside a mix of different people.

“I learnt other soft skills such as patience and listening as well as how to prioritise work when given a high volume of tasks. I am really grateful for this opportunity and would recommend Our Future to anyone!”

Navien: “[Beyond Your Limits] has made me see myself in a completely new way. It has taught the kinds of skills which aren’t covered in school but will be so good when I start to apply for jobs!

“Through the programme I have also met so many fantastic people who have helped me be the best that I can. EY Foundation has also given me friends who I hope to stay in touch with throughout our journeys into adulthood. Doing Beyond Your Limits has made me feel like I can do amazing things!”

Quotes reproduced from the EY Foundation’s 2021/22 Impact Report archived here.

Voices from our community: Jodie McNally is interim CEO and head of programmes and regions at EY Foundation.


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