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More Than Just Making the Tea

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You might be forgiven for thinking that our economy has fully recovered, especially with unemployment back to pre-recession levels, and the UK showing the strongest growth in Europe, surpassing all predictions. The view from many is that we're through the worst. But, the reality is different for many people, especially those who either have just left or are leaving school to compete for the limited number of jobs available.

Over 800,000 under 25s currently can't find work and therefore become independent. If you pause for a moment, you can imagine what that must do for their confidence and the lasting damage this has on our society.

As a mother of two teenagers, I know first-hand just how influential families are to the success of someone starting their career. Of all of my achievements, being able to share my experience and give my kids confidence for the future is what I'm most proud of. But, I don't just want to help my children; I want to help all young people. That's why I became an Ambassador for LifeSkills, created with Barclays. The programme is designed to help one million young people, connect with businesses to create opportunities to gain the skills and experience they need to be successful by 2015.

My experience has reinforced my view that when it comes to getting on the career ladder, young people rely on their families for help. In fact, LifeSkills research found 14 to 25-year-olds trust their families for inspiration and advice on getting a job, far above any other source of guidance, including teachers. But, half of young people don't feel they have been given enough careers education to get their dream job.

The pressure is on families to guide their children yet, according to government statistics, in one in eight households in the UK no one has a job.

We have to do more to support families so they have the information to confidently help their loved one. At the same time, we also have to do more to give young people first-hand experience of work so they understand what businesses need. But, there's another problem: work experience has a bad reputation. For some young people, it can seem a waste of time, more about tea-making and photocopying than learning useful skills. Yet, if it's structured properly, work experience is invaluable. It's time we champion work experience and help businesses offer quality work experience by providing clearer guidance and resources on how to structure placements.

Like many young people, I was desperate to start work, although it was a steep learning curve. I was rejected for the first job I ever applied for at Waitrose in Enfield for being "too glamorous", well I did turn up for the interview in white cowboy boots! Uncomfortable as it was it taught me a valuable lesson to always dress appropriately. Even at one of the most creative ad agencies in the world, Saatchi and Saatchi (where everyone else rolled up in jeans) I was immaculate in a suit every day from the tender age of 18. My outfit gave me and others confidence in my ability. It's why I was always the one sent to greet clients and attend meetings.

It seems crazy to me that work experience is no longer in the curriculum and left to teachers who have to jam it into an already packed schedule. It's obvious that anything that has to be completed off the side of a desk is unlikely to receive the attention needed for success. The outcome is that many young people leave school without understanding what skills an employer looks for.

That's why I'm passionate about doing all I can to getting people involved in work experience, traineeships and apprenticeships. It is all of our responsibility to help businesses connect with schools and create opportunities for young people to learn about work. This particularly when businesses say they are more likely to hire someone with experience of a workplace. In a LifeSkills survey of SME business owners, a resounding eight in 10 admitted they would like to hire young people who have completed work experience or an apprenticeship.

Tackling youth unemployment and creating opportunities for young people is something we all have a responsibility to improve. It begins with better support for families, young people and, above all, for schools. My view is that it's about time that we opened up access to the information and skills young people need so that everyone has equal chance to flourish. In return, the number of unemployed young people will drop and British businesses will grow. The future of our society and economy rests on our supporting the next generation to success.

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