Britain’s youth unemployment challenge

Originally published on Barclays Corporate Banking: Insight and Research in July 2014

Youth unemployment across the UK is falling: at the end of Q1 122,000 more young people were in employment compared with the previous quarter.

And while this data is promising, there remains considerable work to be done – work that many business groups believe can be done by the coming together of employers and educational institutions.

Getting pupils ready for work

Kirstie Mackey, Head of LifeSkills created with Barclays, agrees. “We know, from all the research that’s out there from business groups like the Federation of Small Businesses and the Confederation of British Industry, that employers don’t believe that school leavers are ready for work. More needs to be done to help them prepare for employment.” Indeed, the research by the FSB suggests thateight out of 10 employers don’t believe young people leave school ready for work, and arecent study by the CBI found that an overemphasis on passing exams leads to large numbers of school leavers entering the workplace without basic literacy, numeracy and communication skills.

Furthermore, the CBI/Pearson ‘Education and Skills Survey’, found that 78% of employers put school and college leavers’ attitudes to work as the most important factor when recruiting. This suggests that as well as needing support in gaining the right skills, young people also need help in developing the right attitude for work.

Instilling confidence in young people

LifeSkills created with Barclays is on a mission to help tackle this problem. Launched in March last year, the programme collaborates with SMEs and corporates to help young people transition from school to work. So far the take-up is encouraging, with the programme already operating in almost 50% of all secondary schools in the UK.

“The programme has three core elements: people skills, work skills and money skills,” Mackey explains. “We’ll soon be introducing an enterprise element too.”

Mackey believes that changes in the school curriculum, such as work experience no longer being mandatory, have meant that young people often lack confidence and career aspirations. “One in eight young people live in workless households, so they don’t have the role model of work, and they don’t have anyone to give them confidence or inspiration to find a career,” she says.

Providing work experience

Her sentiments are echoed by Richard Sykes, CEO of facilities management giant, ISS UK. “The education curriculum doesn’t allow enough bandwidth for pupils to step out of education and into the workplace from time to time,” he says. “The key challenge is always to get that first opportunity and that first bit of work experience.”

Working with LifeSkills created with Barclays, ISS UK is doing plenty to address this. So far in 2014 alone, the company has reached around 1,300 school pupils by providing work experience placements and by visiting schools and holding careers advice workshops.

The impact of work like this shouldn’t be underestimated. A survey by the Education and Employers Taskforce revealed that more than a quarter (26.1%) of young people who could recall no contact with employers while at school went on to become NEET (not in education, employment or training). Meanwhile, young adults who recalled four or more employer contacts were five times less likely to be NEET than those who had no involvement.

The rise of apprenticeships

Providing career role models and work experience is just part of tackling youth unemployment. Equally important are apprenticeship programmes.

Both Barclays and ISS plan to scale in the coming years. For Sykes, offering apprenticeships at ISS is a “win-win situation”. The company currently employs 210 apprentices and is on target to extend that by another 40 by the end of the year. “That’s been achieved by our managers understanding the benefits that apprentices bring to the business and by taking away some of the stigma that was associated with apprentice schemes before.”

The benefits of apprentices

For Mackey, Barclays’ recent intake of apprentices is transforming the business (the bank opened its apprenticeship programme in March 2012). Crucial to Barclays’ programme is that it accepts people who have no prior work experience or qualifications.

“We now have 1,200 apprentices,” says Mackey. “They have brought so much in terms of skills and passion. When we look at the performance of those apprentices against those who have come in via the non-apprentice route, they’re performing just as well as their peers.

For ISS, increasing its apprentice intake has dramatically improved employee satisfaction and employee engagement too. “We’ve also had lower sickness and better health and safety rates,” says Sykes. “What’s more, we can identify that the projects that do have apprentices on are often further ahead than the ones without apprentices.”

The bigger picture

While both companies are committed to their apprenticeship schemes and providing work experience and career advice in schools, they know that this is only the beginning.

Nazreen Visram, Head of Citizenship for Barclays Corporate Banking, says that global employers like Barclays have a responsibility to support young people in fulfilling their potential, and ultimately tackling youth unemployment. “As part of our company-wide Citizenship agenda, our aim is to help change 5 Million Young Futures by 2015 through a number of programmes to improve the enterprise, financial and employability skills of disadvantaged young people therefore helping them to achieve economic prosperity.

Similarly,  LifeSkills created with Barclays specific goal is to reach one million young people by 2015 – and it can’t do this alone. “We are working with other companies to list their work experience opportunities on the LifeSkills website,” explains Mackey. “That way teachers can go on and find work experiences in local areas. So far we have ISS, KPMG, Nuffield Health, Hilton Hotels, Unilever along with some smaller companies and organisations.”

At ISS, Sykes and his colleagues are determined to set a new standard among facilities management – and become a trailblazer for the sector. “By speaking to other chief executives in the industry, we’ve managed to raise 10,000 pledges for new apprentice places and over 11,000 work experience placements,” says Sykes.

Getting involved

But of course there’s still plenty more to be done, and Sykes and Mackey urge businesses to follow the ISS and Barclays example. Employment of apprentices has been rising since 2012, and the internal benefits to business are clear. Furthermore, businesses can continue to help ultimately tackle the youth unemployment challenge by joining ISS and those already participating in employment schemes.  To find out how you can get involved, visit the LifeSkills created with Barclays website here.

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