Posted by

Louise Timperley, Head of Skills and Employment at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

17 Feb 2015

Youth unemployment in the UK still remains high – it’s three times that of adult unemployment. That’s why it’s so valuable to get businesses, educators and politicians together to talk about how we can best support young people into work and help firms to plug any skills gaps. 

As the Head of Skills and Employment at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce I have the privilege of actively spearheading the local skills landscape. While Greater Manchester’s developing economy is a national success story, to translate that into an international context, and help Manchester perform on a world stage, a greater focus is needed on developing a relevant skills base to accelerate productivity.

On 12 February 2015, Greater Manchester Chamber supported Bolton College to host a lively roundtable discussion on youth unemployment and skills. The event was attended by the Minister for Employment, Esther McVey as well as Jobcentre Plus representatives, apprentices, local businesses, a social housing association, a training provider and educators.

At the roundtable several key themes emerged including support for SMEs to access apprenticeships, the importance of quality work experience for all young people, and closer partnerships between business and education. 

On the topic of access to SMEs there seemed to be a general consensus that businesses, especially smaller firms with less resource than bigger firms, depend on having an intermediary to help them deliver apprentices. David Bremner of Robinsons Brewery actually said that an intermediary was absolutely vital to his company being able to take on apprentices, and the local Chamber helped them cut through the red tape so they could focus on running a successful business, while others noted that the Chamber had helped them to establish a framework for offering quality work experience.

James Farr from Avanta, a leading welfare to work and training provider, referred to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills report ‘Catch 16-24: Youth Employment Challenge’ released earlier that morning, which identified which UK regions are best for offering work experience placements. The report highlighted that a lack of work experience is a real problem, and Marcus Mason from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) agreed. Marcus said that the BCC Workforce Survey 2014 had highlighted that work experience was a top priority for businesses looking to hire young people, yet just 50% of businesses offered it.

There was a view that more businesses must step up to the plate and offer work experience, but equally that schools must be more willing to work with businesses to make this happen. Janine Turner of Stephenson’s Solicitors felt that schools needed to be better engaged in work experience, so that young people can see real value in the opportunity. She said ‘it shouldn’t just be a tick box exercise’.  Marie Gilluley, the Principal of Bolton College proposed a kitemark for employers and schools who are engaged in good work experience opportunities as a way to incentivise them.

When it came to supporting and motivating young people, Keith Harrison from Silcom’s Engineering was an advocate for using family role models and mentors, which has proved a success at his own company. Esther McVey said that young people and schools need to ‘embrace the real working world’, and she noted that the problem is that many young people don’t recognise the need for Maths and English until they see how they are applied in a real job!

Aidan Brooks from Energy and Utility Skills said that his organisation identified that young people need confidence, visibility, and relationship building to succeed and that their Careers Lab supports this. While Julie Price from Job Centre Plus said the Movement to Work campaign had been great at helping young people with job applications and that the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development mentoring has also been a successful scheme.

At the end of the day I think we all had a notepad full of ideas on how we could move forward with the discussions from the day. Esther McVey complimented the Chambers for being so dynamic and responsive to the agenda. Getting schools and businesses to work together more will play a crucial role in developing the talents of our young people. This will rely on the support of intermediaries, like the Chambers, and the support of government to make access to funding easy and with as little red tape as possible!  

We also need to inspire our young people, and that is exactly what Paul Heathcote of Heathcote’s Restuarants did at the end of the day. As a ex student of Bolton College himself, he told the young people how he moved jobs for better experience rather than better money. He was a prime example that hard work and passion pays off. 

All views expressed in guest blogs are that of the authors, and not of the British Chambers of Commerce.