Posted by

Martin Foulkes

18 Dec 2014

Through our work with schools and colleges we see smart, skilled, motivated and interested young people who are ready for work. And we ask ourselves isn’t that what employers are looking for? If so, then how do we help bring businesses closer to them and recognise the talent that exists?

One way is by bringing them together face-to-face to share their thoughts and opinions. The British Chambers of Commerce Business Experience Day, which took place at the BT Tower last week, was such as day. 180m in the skies of London successful apprentices, an entrepreneur, employers, a business support organisation and a group of young people with their ears open, came together.

Students from St Helens Chamber’s study programme; 16-19 year olds looking to break into accountancy, marketing and international trade attended. They heard from some of BT’s high flying apprentices talking about their mixed routes through education into work. We got the first hints from these role models that qualifications are not enough, that the real world relies on motivation first, experience second and training third… in fact most organisations want to give that training!

With their ears pricked our young students were told by Nick Boles, the Minister of State for Skills and Equalities, that the government will be supporting young people and businesses to come together more in the future. He was clear that young people need more experience but that this should be through exposure to businesses, work placements and industry-led school based projects.

This sounded like a model for true partnership between schools and the shop-floor. Boles talked about the launch of the Careers Company, which will revolutionise how schools connect with businesses, so that young people can gain first-hand experience of what characteristics and skills a business looks for from their workers. Boles also ably responded to some searching questions from our inquisitive pupils.

After lunch spinning round in the sky (literally) the young people at the event were primed and ready. Louis Barnett, one of Europe’s youngest ever entrepreneurs really brought it home. He left school really, really young, gained no qualifications and followed his passion… chocolate. Now the owner of a multi-million pound and multi-national company his message was clear: work out what you want work to be like and then chase it down, relentlessly!

After 15 years trying to encourage young people to ‘get real’ I saw the magic happen before my eyes. Hands shot up asking Louis “Where do I sign up?” and “What would you do differently?”.

And then Louis topped up his helpful advice with free chocolate bars! What I saw is, in my opinion, how it should be – young people asking business people “How do I get where you are?”.

Well done to the British Chambers of Commerce, BT Business and Louis Barnett. You lit some fires and will have changed some lives.

Martin Foulkes – St Helens Chamber

Starting Point Education Services Manager

T: 01744 742110

M: 07825 032161


View the BCC's Skills an Employment Manifesto.

To see photos of the day please click here.



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