THE BLOG
09/10/2013 12:11 BST | Updated 09/10/2013 12:11 BST

Industry Needs to Step Up to the Plate to Address Youth Skills Shortage

After what seems an eternity of bad news regarding the economy, it does now appear there are indicators that the UK can begin to look ahead with renewed hope once more.

Recent unemployment data was positive and moving in the right direction down to a rate of 7.7 per cent, house prices are rising, and the Chancellor has even been so bold to call time on the downturn.

Although we are a long way from saying we are in good times, confidence does appear to be showing signs of growing.

However, amidst this better news, is a very serious, on-going and long-standing problem which needs addressing - and needs addressing right now.

The UK has nearly one million 16-24 year-olds unemployed. This is a tragedy. It is also indefensible when, at the same time, we are crying out in industry for new blood, new talent.

Yet, while we talk of this chronic skills shortage and - rightly - deplore high youth unemployment as the sacrifice of a generation, we consistently fail to fix either.

Here is a problem requiring all of us to stand up and be counted. We need to raise our level of investment in skills - skills enhancement leads to innovation, innovation leads to growth, growth leads to prosperity.

We all pay a price of a lack of prosperity; but those most penalised are those paying the lifelong cost of "skills poverty".

We can't just blame Government: even the latest, deepest Spending Review includes an extra £500 million of science capital funding and Government intercedes early in education by encouraging STEM subjects in schools. Yet there is a real dearth of technicians, engineers and scientists coming through - which means less UK-originated IP and hence fewer UK-designed products, less chance of renewing our manufacturing base, loss of export opportunities; above all, a structural dependency on benefits. Result - a stubbornly high deficit requiring ongoing spending cuts.

The long-term consequences of not equipping our young people with the building blocks for a career are a huge headache for government and industry - one that affects all of our futures.

So what can be done, what should be done?

A major part of that answer is this: Industry needs to step up to the plate. It is for this reason that QinetiQ, along with colleagues and indeed competitors from industry - Babcock, WS Atkins, EADS UK, MBDA, Renishaw and the CBI, which calls it a "crucial campaign" - have launched The 5%Club campaign. While it is an industry-led campaign, we are also supported by the Department for Business.

The idea is very simple - the campaign is calling on all public and private companies in the UK to sign up to a charter in which they make the aspirational pledge that within five years, 5 per cent of their UK workforce will comprise of apprentices, sponsored students and graduates.

We also ask that for the first time, member companies provide a public account of this goal in their company and annual reports.

All public companies in the UK make declarations in their annual reports on metrics - financial, environmental, health and safety, CSR. Given today's youth unemployment, shouldn't we be monitoring and reporting our investment in skills creation, in not just employment but employability?

I believe what gets measured, gets done - which is why the 5% target is key.

Leading a business is all about choices, balancing out the calls on finite resources, of today versus tomorrow. The strategic decision to commit to 5% of our workforce to structured training programmes for young recruits is one that will pay huge dividends in terms of long term prosperity - not only for the company that does it, but also for our society and Britain's place in the global race.

So by way of a rallying call, I urge fellow business leaders to do their bit in helping solve this problem and join us in The 5%Club.

Inspiring the next generation is not enough - we must invest in it.

Find out more about The 5%Club - www.5percentclub.org.uk