As the clocks go back, it's clear that winter is coming and we're racing to the end of another year. So, as is traditional, it's the time when I reflect on the year that's been. For me, 2013 marked the start of the upturn, when more businesses across the UK began to feel confident about their future. It's also marked by a mood change in the public as they came to expect more from business beyond chasing return. All areas of business life have come under scrutiny as customers demand transparency and a moral element to its practices.
One of the most impactful aspects of business behaviour is the approach taken to employment, especially when it comes to the recruitment of young people. David Cameron's recent call for more rigorous academic training during apprenticeships is just one example of how seriously youth employment is being taken by everyone from the government down. Reading Alan Milburn's State of the Nation report makes it obvious why action needs to be taken. It found that this generation of young people will, for the first time, be worse off than their parents and those most affected will, as always, be children from low and middle income families. This makes me both sad and frustrated. Addressing these issues will be difficult but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
So, it was heartening to see that the City of London Corporation has started to place young people from state schools into paid traineeships in prestigious firms. It's a great example of how schemes connecting businesses directly with young people can make a huge different to employability. It mirrors my experience as chair of the LifeSkills Advisory Council. Change can be achieved when businesses are bought together with schools, education specialists, parents and government.
What we need is relatively simple: businesses to recognise that those under 25 could become a talent pool that will help them grow but they have an active role to play in helping them understand and then develop the skills that are needed. It could start with offering work experience, a traineeship or apprenticeship. What's important is realising this interaction will inspire a young person about what their future could hold and directly influence their success. Especially for the one in six who grow up in families where neither parent is employed (ONS: 2013). In fact, research tells us that the number of interactions that young people have with businesses can directly affect their future salary by thousands of pounds by their mid-20s.
Of course, the benefit isn't 'only' to the young person or the local community in which every business operates. It goes two-ways; businesses can play a part in actively tackling the skills gap that too many face when they recruit at entry level. As I have found from offering work experience at West Ham, businesses also learn from determined, passionate young people. This insight includes what today's consumers are looking for in a brand or how to make your business and sector attractive to talented young people.
The good news is that no one business has to take on this issue alone. There are a myriad of resources to help, including LifeSkills created with Barclays. This helps businesses connect with schools to offer work experience to pupils who have been taught about the world of work and skills employers look for. In six months, LifeSkills has reached a quarter of a million young people with partners including McDonald's, Centrica, ISS and my own West Ham Utd.
This is just a start and I hope that as we look to next year, more and more businesses consider their role in tackling the skills gap that could threaten our future. Working together, we have a chance to transform the opportunities available to the next generation and the future growth of our economy.
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