This year we have arguably endured some of the toughest economic times that the UK has ever seen. As 2012 draws to a close, youth unemployment remains rooted around the one million mark and the Chancellor's recent Autumn Statement showed that economic growth is still slower than expected. Although most businesses have felt the pinch at some point, young people entering the employment market are amongst those hit the hardest.
However, I don't believe it's all been doom and gloom - and as we look to 2013, there is some cause for optimism, especially for young people.
In 2012 we've encouragingly witnessed growing recognition of young people's digital skills by Government and business. Earlier this year, business valued the unused digital skills sitting with unemployed youth community at £6.7 billion. It showed us that businesses are beginning to wak up and realise the untapped talent sitting with these digital natives.
As we look to 2013, young people need to capitalise on this recent realisation; they need to be confident in their abilities and ready to showcase their valuable skills - skills that many businesses are crying out for.
Of course, young people cannot go it alone. If we are really going to tackle youth unemployment, business and government have a hugely important role to play too. The recent Richard Review of apprenticeships was an encouraging step forward on the journey. The government commissioned review, conducted by entrepreneur Doug Richard, brought welcome recommendations to the table to help raise the benchmark of apprenticeship schemes in England and ensure that they continue to help young people into work.
I was really pleased to see the report wholeheartedly call for improved scheme standards. I too believe that, when it comes to work experiences for young people, quality is key - it's not just about the number of opportunities available, it's about the quality of those opportunities. Apprenticeships do provide an important platform to support young people on their journey to work but only if those experiences are genuine and valuable to the apprentice. It is only through consistently high scheme standards that they will be given the recognition by employers and young people that they deserve - and be regarded as highly as a university degree.
Another step in the right direction was the call for increased employer responsibility in raising that benchmark; after all, this is not something that government can achieve alone. Empowering employers to set the standards for new qualifications, relevant to our industries will enable us to develop programmes that not only help young people into work but also harness their talents and help to build a workforce that is fit for the future.
Of course, improved apprenticeship qualifications will not only bring benefit to young people, but to British business too. At O2, we've found that our apprenticeship scheme is a great way of developing raw talent and ensuring that they have the knowledge, skills and experience that we and they need to be successful. We believe that young people have huge amounts to contribute, and the apprenticeship scheme is a valuable asset to our business.
So 2012 has seen some important steps in getting our young people into work, but mores still needs to be done. As we look ahead to 2013, it's important that government and all businesses, big and small, consider how they can help to support more young people on their journey into work, whether through apprenticeships, internships or work placements. Through this combined effort of business, government and young people themselves, I truly believe that we will begin to see young people, and the British economy, begin to really thrive.