The Blog

Old Business Needs Young People

When it comes to the business world, young people have a problem. UK PLC is keeping them at arms length. The perception is that they're poorly educated, unmotivated and lacking in drive. In short employing young people is seen as a risk.

When it comes to the business world, young people have a problem. UK PLC is keeping them at arms length. The perception is that they're poorly educated, unmotivated and lacking in drive. In short employing young people is seen as a risk.

The stigma with which businesses view young people has quietly been evolving for years. By over looking the younger generation are businesses also waving goodbye to what could be their biggest competitive advantage?

In a word, yes. Facebook is the best example of this. The very idea of Facebook would never have come from someone of an older generation and yet it is one of the most successful companies of our time. Simply a great idea well executed. And it's now a global empire.

By mentally labeling 18 - 24 year olds as "useless" or "unimportant" businesses are failing to recognise the power and talent they have. Indeed the 2011 World at Work report found that globally young people are worst off in the unemployment rankings. Businesses are overlooking the entrepreneurs that will develop the ideas which change the future. Can business afford to be so narrow minded when it comes to those under 30?

I don't believe they can. One of the biggest long-term threats to UK PLC is that sick of being stereotyped, young people are instead doing it for themselves. They no longer need big business to fund their ideas. We might have had a financial crisis, but we haven't had an imagination one. Young people have new ideas every single day that have the potential to create a seismic shift in markets from sausage filling through to communication. Shunned by businesses, they are making a go of it themselves. And why not? It has never been easier to set up on your own.

Many new ideas that young people talk to us about are in the field of technology. As people that have grown up with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as a fact of life, they're inspired by what they've seen. Indeed it is the two year old playing on their parent's iPad as if it were the most natural thing in the world that is more likely to develop the next big idea, rather than a blue chip dinosaur.

For its part the Government is doing little to help. It's clear the private sector will not be able to carry the burden of the public sector cuts. People of the so-called "lost generation" don't want to be led out of the recession - they want to find their own way. That's not silly, slack or lacking in vision. Most 18 year olds I know have more drive than senior management execs.

What UK PLC can't see is that there is a quiet revolution going on. The next phase will no doubt see channels such as Facebook being used as a community base for people to swap and collaborate on ideas - just like the early tech entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley did in the 1980s over a cup of coffee. 18 to 24 year olds are recreating that entrepreneurial spirit right here in Britain, but businesses are too blinded by their prejudices to see what they are missing out on by not giving young people a chance.

When will businesses wipe the sleep from their eyes and wake up to the talent that exists? There have been some positive developments. For example the big four accountancy firms announced in the summer that they are undertaking some direct recruitment drives with high flying A level students. We need more of this activity, and it also needs to be broader in its scope - after all it's not just the top 10% in the class that come up with concepts to alter the world around them.

It's not just the imagination and skills that young people have which businesses are missing out on - but they are also alienating their customers of the future, who without their support are merrily forging new market places and economies. Just as there is old and new money, so the same divide is emerging in business. Old businesses can't afford to be locked out of the new world. So perhaps it is time for a little respect - and imagination required from UK PLC.