Youth unemployment is one of the greatest challenges currently facing the UK. One and a half million young people according to the Guardian are currently not in education, employment or training. A quarter of a million have been unemployed for over a year. The cost both from a socio and economic point of view of this level of long-term youth unemployment, now and in the future, is enormous. This is a crisis we cannot afford.
The question we, as British businesses, need to ask is can anything be done? I believe the answer is yes but we need young people, government, communities and employers to up their game and work together in a cohesive, joined up approach.
As the economy constricts, young people are being squeezed out of the job market and we are in danger of letting a huge amount of talent, energy and creativity go to waste, with the potential for dire economic consequences. Statistics tell us young people who were unemployed for a long time will earn less throughout their whole lives. They will be less employable. They won't have the skills that businesses need and this can add up to social unrest - look no further than last year's riots or the chaos today on the streets of Athens.
Some suggest the youth has lost a line of sight to the future; others condemn them as a 'lost generation'. Among others, the underlying reason why the young are struggling to find work is largely a question of demand. The economic environment is making businesses wary of hiring new workers and this disproportionately affects those who are looking for their first job. It has become harder to get a foot on the bottom rung of the work ladder. This is largely a result of globalisation and of technological improvement, coupled with the fact over the last 40 years the global population has more than doubled in size, from three billion to seven billion.
There are also problems with supply. Businesses today are increasingly worried that school-leavers are not equipped with the skills needed in the workplace. A recent report entitled 'Unlocking Britain's Potential' published by Adecco, the job recruitment and employment agency, found that 36 percent of companies believe the education system was not meeting their needs, while over 50 percent of employees stated that the current educational curriculum was not providing youngsters with appropriate skills. Failures identified included basic literacy and numeracy, as well as basic workplace skills such as behaviour, attitude, teamwork, communications and personal presentation.
And so to the $64,000 question, what can be done? And specifically, how can business help. We have a great history in the UK of thriving on innovation and creating economic value. We need to draw on this heritage if we are to confront the challenge ahead to renew our workforce to compete in a fast moving and competitive global economy. At the moment, lots of people are concerned about youth unemployment, but no-one is in charge. Businesses, universities, schools, governments and non-governmental organisations need to start talking to each other about what they need and what they can deliver.
In particular education - from primary through to secondary and tertiary - needs to focus on teaching children new skills to get ahead in today's digital economy. In a visit to the UK last year the Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt, delivered a critique of the UK's education system saying the country had failed to capitalise on its record of innovation in science and engineering. Schmidt argued that the country that invented the computer was "throwing away your great computer heritage" by failing to teach programming in schools. This wake-up sent shockwaves through Whitehall with David Cameron quick to agree, ordering Michael Gove, the education secretary, to publish a revised technology strategy to shift the emphasis away from teaching how to use software, towards a greater insight into how it's made.
Young people need to be introduced to the world of work much earlier and offered the sort of experiences that will set expectations and develop the attitudes and behaviour needed to succeed in the modern workplace. Work experience, apprenticeships, paid internships and graduate training schemes are all cost effective ways for businesses to tap into this potential and for young people to get the experience they need to get ahead. This is particularly important in newer areas such as programming, security and server maintenance where skills are really lacking.
We know this works. Apprenticeships at BT or Rolls-Royce are more oversubscribed than the most desirable course at the best university. At Logica, our highly attractive year-long industrial placement and graduate scheme offers a route to good salaries and quick promotion. Our three year sponsored degree programme has proved highly successful - with a five-fold increase in applications from last year. We're also currently in talks to double the intake of undergraduates from the past year.
Employers carry a responsibility to go further with the need to recognise the growing number of individuals in debt and begin to address this as part of their reward structure, acknowledging the investment that an individual has made in their own development. Only then will we begin to face up to the challenge ahead.
The time has come to act. Let's not pretend that the issues identified are straightforward, or the solutions immediately apparent - yet they are certainly real and pressing.