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Mentoring Schemes Key to Tackling Youth Unemployment

04/06/2013 10:02 BST | Updated 03/08/2013 10:12 BST

As Britain's latest youth unemployment figures almost hit the million mark - and nearly half of those are claiming benefits - surely it is time the coalition Government did more to help our young people into work? Considering so many 16-24 year olds are unable to find a job after leaving education, the issue of youth unemployment really does need to become a much greater priority among our politicians.

While apprenticeships are a step in the right direction, I firmly believe that we should be investing in mentoring schemes to help bridge the gap between education and employment. In my view, the Government needs to build robust partnerships between enterprise, schools and young people to encourage and develop business skills and confidence in the workplace.

Many young people leave education without valuable basic skills, such a confident and polite telephone manner or knowing how to draft a business letter or email. I believe that giving young people access to a mentor can offer them encouragement and support, while also helping them to develop a business attitude, make them much more appealing to employers.

In a ruthless jobs market, even university graduates are expected to spend time doing unpaid internships to gain enough 'hands-on' experience to become employable. But it is widely acknowledged that business success isn't about having a university degree, it is about having determination, entrepreneurial spirit and real life skills.

So what about young kids who haven't got the funds or the family support to go to university or to spend months on end doing unpaid work? How are young people from average working class backgrounds expected to find a job when companies will only consider people with experience?

Surely the key is to encourage mentoring schemes with successful business leaders. Many young people could end up with a huge advantage in the jobs market, simply by being able to highlight on their CV that they have been mentored by a great business leader. The association with a successful business leader, who has taken the time to spend time with them and impart some real life skills, will give them much more employability.

I started work with little qualification, having grown up in Toxteth, Liverpool, one of the most deprived areas in the country. However, I always had ambition and I was lucky enough to have a good mentor in the family. My Auntie ran a café in Liverpool and I learned a lot from her and in many ways she helped shape my attitude towards business. After many years of hard work, I have worked my way up from helping out at weekends in my Auntie's café to running a successful national bar chain, Baa Bar, which now has 11 bars across the country. I have been fortunate enough to have been nominated for the First Women Awards, in association with Lloyds Banking Group, which will take place on 12 June.

But I really believe that people of my generation have a different work ethic. These days, young people, particularly in areas high in long-term unemployment, seem to have given up before they have even started. And I think that's down to the current benefits culture and a lack of optimism for success. For these young people, nobody is painting a rosy picture, leaving them with nothing but a pessimistic view of the future. There are many great kids living in deprived areas but because of their social background and lack of business role models, they are often overlooked in the jobs market.

However, if potential employers could see on their CVs that they have a real business mentor, encouraging them to believe in themselves, they could end up on the right path to a successful career instead of getting 'stuck in rut' of unemployment.

I strongly urge the Government to invest in more initiatives to encourage business leaders to start mentoring and inspiring the country's business leaders of the future. We owe it to our young people to offer them a brighter future.

Elaine Clarke is shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.

For further information click here.

The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.