19/07/2013 13:08 BST | Updated 18/09/2013 06:12 BST

An Aspiration Nation: Improving the Employability of Our Young People


This week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released some encouraging news about the state of employment in the UK - youth unemployment has dropped.

According to the latest labour market statistics, 3.63 million people aged 16-24 are currently in employment, and youth unemployment fell by 20,000.

However, nearly a million 16-24 year olds are still left without work.

For many young people, this is a desperate situation. Any length of time with little or no work is an extremely difficult cycle to break.

Young people across Britain face tough competition for jobs, due to factors ranging from increasing population size, people working longer into their retirement age, high levels of immigration from European countries, and technological advancements that have changed the very nature of jobs available.

And yet, many employers are reporting huge difficulties in recruiting people with the right skills.

Whether it's basic people skills, sales experience, marketing expertise or sound financial understanding, it's clear that thousands of young people lack the fundamental employability skills required by businesses.

The Skills Gap

Skills are essential to economic prosperity, but our national supply of skills does not match the economic demand. As a society, we need to work to improve the employability of our young people.

In today's competitive jobs market, businesses are on the lookout for bright, enthusiastic, driven individuals, employees who are willing to work hard and are keen to implement fresh ideas to a company.

Nick Clegg spoke at the CBI president's dinner earlier this week about the UK needing urgent reform of the range of skills, training and employment support available to prepare young people for a competitive working life.

His call for a review of schemes that aim to help the thousands of jobless 18-24 year olds is an extremely welcome one.

There's no end to the advantages of hiring young people. They bring energy, passion and new approaches to an organisation, as well as the ability to spot an opportunity through a fresh pair of eyes.

At the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy, we call these 'intrapreneurs' - people who innovate a business from within - and we are building a nationwide network of Academies to nurture the next generation of 'intrapreneurs'.

Our courses are enterprise-focused, however we recognise that not everyone will go on to run their own business and many work better in an established organisation, where they can add real value and offer new, innovative strategies.

Some of the stories of our young students are nothing short of inspiring. Many join the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy from disadvantaged backgrounds, having had few - if any - previous opportunities in business.

But their transformation is incredible - and their achievements are celebrated at the Academy's annual Graduation ceremony.

This month the class of 2013 graduated at an event in Covent Garden, London where Peter Jones CBE and HRH The Duke of York, KG, Patron of the Peter Jones Foundation both presented awards to the highest calibre of students.

It was a brilliant showcase of the work of the students throughout the year and illustrated the enthusiasm and ambition of hundreds of students across the country, eager to take their first step on the career ladder.

A student from Solihull College, Harry Day, was named National Entrepreneur of the Year and will be supported in the growth of his tailoring business, with a mentoring package from experienced business experts.

There are many young people across the UK who have the potential to achieve highly. At the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy, we are working to ensure that these aspirational individuals are provided with the necessary support and encouragement to reach their goals.

With nearly a million young people in Britain out of work, we need to do more to show them that there are real opportunities out there and that a decent and satisfying job is not out of reach.

Alice Barnard is Chief Executive of the Peter Jones Foundation, the organisation that runs the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy.