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Make it your business to save a lost generation

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Youth unemployment is the biggest threat to the future of the world economy. In the last five years, the toll of 16 to 24-year-olds left to deal with the prospect of a workless future, has risen by 240 per cent. Businesses and ministers have acknowledged that for Britain’s economy to flourish, youth unemployment needs to be eradicated or the loss of talent and wealth will be crippling. 

While recognising the strategic importance of the issue is a good start, policy makers and businesses need to stop worrying about the quality of recruits. More preparation for young people to compete in an austerity-hit marketplace needs to be done.

National education charity Young Enterprise has launched the “Save a lost generation” campaign to show businesses how they can get involved by donating their time, money or expertise. People from local firms can take responsibility by going into classrooms to help equip young people with the skills needed 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.

Thousands of talented people every year are denied an opportunity to prove themselves, lacking vital employability skills that cannot be acquired through a purely academic curriculum. Gone are the days when enthusiasm and knowledge of core school subjects were the only pre-requisites to landing a graduate job. Nowadays, employers are looking for teamwork, punctuality, accountability and personal responsibility.

What’s the best solution to training the high quality workforce the country needs for the future, without 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 or university. Government research programmes have shown that enterprise education not only helps young people become more employable – it boosts their academic performance in subjects such as Maths, English and Science.

Enterprise education is a powerful force. Since Young Enterprise was founded in 1962, a total of 3.8m young people aged between four and 25 have been through our programmes. To mark our 50th anniversary, we asked the Small Business Research Centre at Kingston University to measure the impact of our programme helping young people run firms for a year while in education.

The academics found that 42 per cent of our alumni had started their own company. The businesses they created tended to employ more people, have larger turnover, were more innovative, and more likely to survive the recession. This is needed as the British economy will continue to be in austerity until 2018.

Society cannot afford to default on its moral obligation to young people as it will prove 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 at national education charity Young Enterprise.

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