It would be easy to believe that youth unemployment began with this recession. The problem is, it's not true. The number of young people out of work actually started to rise in 2005. But why? If it's not just the recession, what's happening?
Quite simply, the labour market is changing - and, if you're a young person, not for the better. In a global economy, there are new and genuinely exciting opportunities - but only for those with the skills to take advantage of them. The UK needs a pool of talent that is continually re-stocked.
Recent research by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has found that just six per cent of employers are prepared to offer a young person their first job. Significantly, those that do are usually pleased with their new recruits, finding them well prepared for work. Yet many more are put off employing young people, frequently citing their lack of experience. This is a classic - and ominous - catch-22 situation. No experience, no job. No job, no experience. There's no instantaneous solution, of course, but I think one simple thing we could do is encourage businesses and schools to work more closely together. This belief is borne out in a recent report from UKCES called 'Business and Schools: Building the world of work together.'
There are some simple truths contained within this report. At its core is the knowledge that businesses and education working in partnership can produce substantial benefits for everybody involved: most importantly, to young people's prospects around employability and awareness and experience of the workplace. To many in business the findings of the report will come as no surprise and likewise, I suspect, to many in education. Acknowledging the problem and accepting the analysis are always important pre-conditions for change but the fact that businesses continue to identify barriers to action confirms the need for greater change at a greater pace.
Employers of all shapes and sizes want staff who are literate and numerate, personable, competent, and hard-working. These are the core "employability" skills that transform pupils and students into credible candidates for employment.
It's clear from this report that businesses recognise their role in this. If, as business people, we want a talent pool of young people that has depth and quality, then we must play our part in ensuring that young people have the skills and experience we are looking for. This means engagement with those teaching tomorrow's workforce and taking responsibility for making those involved with a child's education. Schools need to be aware of what businesses can offer pupils and students, in terms of developing employability skills, enabling understanding of the world of work and providing experience of work.
We know that when young people feel engaged and when demands are made of them, they are capable of stepping up and tackling the challenges that come with making the transition from education to work. But we mustn't leave it until they're looking for a job. Preparing them for work whilst they are still in education is vital. Workplace training and Apprenticeships play a vital role, but the journey starts before that - in school. Schools and colleges need to put the employability of their students at the heart of everything they do and policy makers need to create the conditions to enable this to happen.
As business people, we have the industry and sector knowledge, while teachers have the skills to impart this information. Young people need access to up-to-date information on careers and an appreciation of what the workplace expects from them. Our report shows clearly that many employers believe employability skills are as important as academic qualifications, with some putting the former before the latter in their search for staff. Every journey starts with a single step, so what's the path and what can businesses do? Here are some suggestions:
• Contact your local school or college directly and offer to provide:
o Careers talks or information
o Materials for teachers to use
o Visits to your company
o Work experience opportunities for students
• Contact your local business and education partnership who can broker the first step for you to put you in contact with your local school or college or arrange activities for you to get involved in
• Get involved in national programmes to assist business and education to work together:
o Inspiring the Future - employees giving 'career insight' talks
This initiative matches volunteers with state schools and colleges. Employee volunteers go into schools to talk about the job they do, the education or training route they took and careers in their sector. Register at www.inspiringthefuture.org
Career Academies offer volunteering opportunities.
• Business in the Community offers the Work Inspiration programme.