Youth Enterprise – the times are they a-changing?

There is little doubt that there is an immense amount of attention being paid to today’s ‘youth‘.

Whether we watch The Apprentice, get scared by anyone wearing a hoodie, are concerned about the options available to our kids leaving school or simply confused and slightly cynical by the ever-improving exam results, youth culture is high on the list for media, and consequently our, attention.

I will not add to this constant stream of rhetoric. I want to spend a little time reminiscing or more specifically attempting to put some context onto today’s issues with those I faced when I was a youth.

On the face of it I do not see many differences:

* I did not like many subjects at school
* I had no career advice (other than get you’re ‘A‘ levels or work in a shop)
* I had no idea proper what work was let alone what ‘career‘ I wanted
* My role models were music stars and sports men
* I was insular and lacked the confidence to express myself in unfamiliar environments
* My communication skills were limited (to grunts and sighs usually!)
* Nobody knew what it was like to be me
* All teachers and parents were, by definition, out of touch with real life
* The opposite sex were mysterious, fascinating but unfathomable

In fact, looking back, I can totally appreciate the following quote from George Bernard Shaw; “Youth is wasted on the young.”

So how did I get to be where I am today, how did I start the ball rolling at the age of uncertainty that youth presented?

I stayed on and did my ‘A‘ levels, more from the absence of anything else more appealing than any great passion and drive to further my education. I selected 3 totally different subjects to those that I had previously studied, economics, politics and statistics. I went through the inevitable and unavoidable process of selecting a University and course that seemed appropriate and relevant (International Politics at Leeds University) and scrabbled through the next 2 years. I managed, much to the surprise (and I suspect chagrin – “you’ll never succeed with that attitude”) of my teachers, to secure the necessary grades and prepared to move to Leeds.

Nothing that much different here I suspect from many of today’s youth. It was what happened next that changed my life completely. By chance (or synchronicity?) I bumped into a friend’s mum who worked in the local Careers Advice Centre (sadly an institution that has gone the way of the dodo and Marathon bars) who advised me of an opportunity with a local company. The scheme was called the Commercial Training Scheme at Siemens. It was comprised of a 3 year in-house training program accompanied (on day release) by HNC and HND Business Studies at Stoke College. Hey, thought I, why not. I could get experience, qualifications and money all at the same time, not have to move and not have to be a student. Win/win/win/win/win!

She arranged an interview for the next day, Thursday. I borrowed my sister’s boyfriend’s suit – an appalling brown-checked number – and duly attended. My first ever interview for my first ever job (stacking shelves at Kwik Save excepted). I had no interview training or experience and no preparation so the 4 hours in a single room with 3 different managers in rotation was, I confess, somewhat daunting BUT, by some quirky combination of desperation and fate, I received a call the next day to return for my medical and subsequently started on the Monday along with 4 other trainees in Congleton and 5 more in Sunbury (Head Office). Coincidentally the same day that I was due to attend the Open Day at Leeds Uni.

The scheme was the making of me. Suddenly I was an adult. Earning my own money, meeting proper business people, working in an open office environment and ordering my own stationery! It was a superbly organised program that comprised of 2 years’ nomadically but enthusiastically visiting every department in the organisation; marketing, sales, personnel, manufacturing etc etc, even spending months on the shop floor. Over summer in the first 2 years we re-located for 10 weeks to the Head Office in Sunbury to spend time in those departments that were not located in Congleton (the additional expenses and ‘away from home base‘ allowances made these sojourns even more appealing – I gained 3 stones in beer-related weight!). We went to college once a week to pursue our HNC/HND’s and were given in-house training from actual business managers and staff. It was excellent. I completed my training, got my first Commercial Officer role and started my career on the corporate ladder.

So what is my point? Well I have several.

1. I was no different than many school leavers, then and now.
2. I had no idea about work let alone a career.
3. I was given the chance to earn and learn.
4. The company genuinely supported the program with in-house training.
5. I continued with my academic qualifications.
6. I was treated as an adult, not a youth nor a student.
7. The company ran the scheme for over decade and over 90% of the trainees that ‘passed‘ were retained within the organisation.
8. We were cheap but immensely enthusiastic and willing.
9. I developed my communication skills, learned German and entered a whole new social arena.
10. I understood and respected responsibility and accountability.

There are many more but I feel the point is made.

I have heard many, many interviews regarding students, school leavers, graduates etc recently all with an air of doom and gloom. “The exams are getting easier”, “Kids have no respect”, “They don’t want to work”, “There are not enough jobs for school leavers”, “Students are in debt”, “Graduates can’t even spell” and such like. Well enough say I. Every generation criticises the previous and fears the next. Do something about it or shut up.

Investigate “youth enterprise” schemes.
Talk to HR about taking on school leavers not just graduates.
Get involved in local youth projects.

And . . . Remember what YOU were like! Let’s give them all the chances possible. There are few of us that have had a single, well-planned, controlled career path and to steal a quotation, it’s usually more like crazy paving than a path! For goodness sake (and that of our pensions!!), let’s help them to help us to help them.

“Invention is the talent of youth, as judgment is of age.”
Jonathan Swift

In his role as Business Editor to the3rdi magazine, Phil offers this vast experience in the form of tips, articles advice and editiorial pieces.

Phil works and writes under the brand of Business IQ and can be contacted via his website.

You can also follow Phil’s Business Blog for regular business updates and advice.

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