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How business can address youth unemployment

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As youth unemployment goes over the million mark for the first time since 1986, it is crucial that big business does all it can to support young people looking for alternative career paths. With fewer jobs available, it is vital that young people feel empowered to seize the initiative and create their own opportunities.

There is a large pool of young talent throughout the UK determined to take control of their own destinies and set up on their own. Over 1,700 of these aspiring entrepreneurs have signed up to the Virgin Media Pioneers peer-to-peer network over the last 18 months. 

Through our Control Shift campaign, backed by Sir Richard Branson, we have sought to amplify their voice on what can be done to overcome the obstacles they face. We canvassed their opinions, put them on a platform with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and they’ve taken their seats at the high-level focus group we hosted with members of the enterprise community. And one of the Virgin Media Pioneers we worked with as part of our Control Shift campaign, Zoe Jackson, has just won a Woman of the Future Award, a great achievement. 

They brought a fresh perspective to the conversation and their ideas are at the heart of the calls to action to government, to business and to young people that run throughout the Control Shift report. 

It is clear that the Pioneers have the great ideas, drive and passion they need to succeed, but frequently find their paths blocked by business practices that can discourage their growth. 

Large companies should take a look at their procurement processes and, wherever possible, open them up, enabling small businesses access to their preferred supplier lists. 

This could involve simplifying some of the stringent requirements and red tape that small businesses find difficult to overcome, or even introducing targets for the percentage of contracts that should include a start-up on the short list. Getting that first major company on their client list can be a major stepping-stone to growth for young businesses.

Opening up office spaces to entrepreneurs, giving them the right working environment to help their businesses grow without taking on significant overheads is critical. Spaces like THECUBE, an innovative startup incubator in East London, create innovative and accessible working environments. Going to work everyday, surrounded and supported by other start ups and entrepreneurs, cannot be underestimated. 

Established businesses should be working with local schools to ensure teachers and careers advisers have the knowledge and skills to support budding entrepreneurs; they should make staff available as mentors, something we already do; and they should provide useful and equally accessible work experience.  

Big business thrives off the success of smaller businesses: in their supply chain, as customers, as idea generators and as incubators of talent. Therefore, I call on large enterprise to come together and take proactive steps to support young entrepreneurs. Both to help aspiring young entrepreneurs secure their future but also to secure the future of UK business as a whole.

Andrew Barron is chief operating officer at Virgin Media.

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