Youth unemployment is the biggest threat to the future of the world economy. In the UK the toll of young jobless has risen by 240% in the last 5 years leaving a million 16-24 year olds to deal with the prospect of a workless future. Businesses and Ministers have acknowledged that for Britain’s economy to flourish in the future, youth unemployment needs to be eradicated now, or the loss of talent and wealth will be crippling.
While recognising the huge strategic importance of the issue is a good start, more policy makers and business people need to stop worrying about the quality of young recruits and start doing more to prepare our young people, to compete in an austerity-hit marketplace.
Young Enterprise has launched the ‘Save A Lost Generation‘ campaign to show businesses how they can get involved in this effort by donating their time, money or expertise. In this way, people from local firms can take individual responsibility for the problem by going into classrooms to help equip young people with the skills they need to take a job – or make one for themselves by starting a business.
To start the campaign off, Young Enterprise is targeting ten towns that have been worst hit by high youth unemployment: Portsmouth, Bristol, Ipswich, Derby, Wolverhampton, Rhondda, Cynon, Taff, Leeds, Newcastle, Hackney and Knowsley.
In our experience tens of thousands of talented young people, every year, are being denied an opportunity to prove themselves because they lack vital employability skills, that cannot be acquired through a purely academic curriculum. Gone are the days when bags of enthusiasm and knowledge of core school subjects were the only pre-requisites to landing a graduate job. Nowadays, employers are looking for skills such as teamwork, punctuality, accountability and personal responsibility in potential employees. Skills that can’t be learnt from a textbook, but are crucial for success in the world of work and business, can be cultivated, with the help of Young Enterprise.
So what is the best solution to training the high quality workforce the country needs for the future, without businesses spending a fortune on staff training? Our answer is clear: give young people hands-on experience of business and enterprise while they are still at school, college and university so they become more employable. Many Government research programmes have shown that enterprise education not only helps young people become more employable, it also boosts their academic performance in key subjects such as Maths, English and Science.
Enterprise education is a powerful force. Since Young Enterprise was founded in 1962, a total of 3.8 million young people, aged between four and 25, have been through our programmes. Last year alone 227,000 took part.
To mark our 50th anniversary, we asked the Small Business Research Centre at Kingston University to measure the impact of our programmes that help young people to run firms for a year while in education. The academics found that 42% of our alumni had started their own company. The businesses they created later in life tended to employ more people, have a larger turnover, be more innovative, and be more likely to survive the recession, which is what is needed as the British economy will continue to be in austerity until 2018.
This is why society cannot afford to default on its moral obligation to young people. This moral default will be more damaging than the financial defaults of the last five years. It is clear that businesses, schools and citizens can, and should, do much more to save this generation before it is irretrievably lost to the tragedy of unemployment.
Michael Mercieca is Chief Executive Of Young Enterprise