Posted by

Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy and External Affairs

17 Jun 2013

Over the past three years, British businesses have surprised everyone by hiring far more workers than the anaemic GDP growth statistics would indicate. Yet the proportion of young people between 16 and 24 in employment has barely budged, suggesting that older workers and migrants have been the principal beneficiaries of the surge in jobs. Why are our young people being left behind as Britain gets back to work?

From my travels around the country, I have gathered together some observations that are crucial to tackling the stand-off we currently face between a political establishment exhorting business to do more for young people, and a business community that says the 'raw material' being placed in front of them simply isn't good enough.

We all know the problems. Poor literacy and numeracy skills. Behaviour, attitude and personal skills that are sometimes short of expectations. Qualifications that don't deliver what it says on the tin. The list goes on.

Yet my experience with businesses suggests that there are six common-sense steps that could be taken by local councils, schools, and government to partner more effectively with Chambers and the wider local business community. Six steps to a youth employment revolution, if you will, in every part of the UK:

1) Talk to us, not at us. Want to get business on side? Start a two-way conversation, and put a stop to the preaching.

2) Drop the jargon. For decades now, training and education have been surrounded by what I call a 'cloak of confusion', and a language spoken only by those who are part of the system. No more 'stakeholder engagement strategy roundtables' and the like. Talk in our language: young people in your business can help you solve problems, develop new products or markets, and add to your bottom line.

3) Embrace businesspeople in local schools. They shouldn't have to bang the doors down or convince head teachers that spending time in the classroom is a good thing for pupils, whether said pupils end up being entrepreneurs themselves or perhaps employed in the private sector, which is the source of 90pc of new jobs.

4) Stop 'initiativitis'. While central government is the biggest culprit here, the continual change in qualifications and support for young people has left businesses adrift. Germany has succeeded through stability in its training system and in transitions from school to work. With a bit of forethought, we can do the same.

5) Give businesses more control over training cash. Setting us a challenge works - as the 'Employer Ownership' pilot scheme is showing. Call us on our assertion that we in the private sector can train up young people to become productive members of our companies, and hand over the resources - rather than maintain a 'provider knows best' approach that has produced mediocre results for decades.

6) Invest in the transition from school to work. Whether it's the hash made of careers advice by central government, or schools' and colleges' sometimes-unimaginative approach to work experience, we can do better. Limited resources should be prioritised on helping young people to get into work, rather than spent on dealing with the consequences of unemployment thereafter.

From my vantage point, businesspeople around the UK concluded a long time ago that there is no intellectually-rigorous, silver-bullet solution to the youth employment challenge. Yet there are some simple things that can be done here and now - alongside a long-term effort to raise educational standards - to make sure young people have a better chance with local employers. It's down to us all, not to prescription from government. So let's get to work.