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Businesses have a key role to play in tackling the youth unemployment crisis

COVID-19 has exacerbated unemployment and social exclusion among young people who are facing an increasingly disrupted and challenging jobs market.

According to the Resolution Foundation, youth unemployment in Britain is on course to more than triple to the highest levels since the early 1980s, with the warning that a 'COVID generation' could be lost to long periods out of work.

The current climate brings even greater difficulties to those disadvantaged by lower socio-economic backgrounds, who already lack access to training, mentoring, work experience, internships and other employment opportunities.

Addressing social mobility in a meaningful and sustainable way has been an issue for a number of years and, with the upheaval caused by the pandemic across the country, this will likely get worse.

At the same time, changes to the business landscape, business priorities, and customer or client demands mean employers need to think differently about how they futureproof their organisation and workforce.

Whether it’s navigating COVID challenges, adapting to Brexit, preparing for a green economic recovery, or being a more responsible business, organisations need to adjust traditional hiring strategies to better equip them with the skills they’ll need to manage this level of change. This needs to include a focus on young talent from diverse backgrounds who can bring different perspectives and fresh ideas to new problems.

While talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. In recent years there have been more businesses recognising the value of young talent from disadvantaged backgrounds, who have taken action to help them achieve their full potential.

Some have set up schemes and programmes to attract and train-up young people and enable them to develop workplace skills. Now more than ever, businesses have a critical part to play in addressing disparity and supporting young people.

Organisations can create career paths for young talent while diversifying their own workforce and accessing different ways of thinking that could provide better solutions to new challenges.

For example, Grid for Good, an energy industry programme led by National Grid, aims to support socio-economically disadvantaged young people aged 16-25, such as ex-offenders, those recently unemployed or with low educational attainment, through training and employment opportunities in the energy sector.

The initiative aims to directly help 22,500 young people over the next 10 years, and since launching, some participants have secured full-time roles at National Grid.


Employer-led empowerment

Employer-led programmes can inspire and empower future generations and can contribute to building a pipeline of talent. These schemes can also improve the career prospects for young people, helping them to develop skills and build their knowledge of different sectors.

Engaging with young people through online challenges, digital mentoring, workshops and other activities can spark new ambitions. National Grid for example has partnered with under-represented talent specialists MyKindaFuture to encourage innovation in engineering and get more young people into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

Over five years, the aim is to reach 100,000 diverse and underrepresented young people across South London, developing their employability skills and encouraging careers in STEM.

The issue of youth unemployment is present across many underrepresented groups. Businesses need to consider tailored approaches to reach these talent pools. For example, supported internships for young people with learning disabilities can equip them with skills for long-term work.

With only around 6% of people with a learning disability achieving paid employment, there’s more that can be done to help them succeed within organisations.

National Grid’s EmployAbility scheme, for example, provides a year-long personalised programme which offers higher levels of support, bridges the gap between education and employment, and upskills individuals through workplace learning. 100 interns have completed the programme in the last five years, with 60% moving into employment.

An important part of running these schemes is thinking about how you involve your employees. Existing workforces have heaps to offer in terms of career experience, mentoring and supporting young people.

And for your employees, having the opportunity to contribute to meaningful initiatives and share their own stories can offer additional purpose to their everyday job. When establishing these programmes, considering the role your own people can play in developing talent will be key to their success.

Businesses are having to manage huge uncertainty and change in the current pandemic environment, but they mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Training and upskilling individuals from different backgrounds and with different experiences can bring new ideas and perspectives for tackling problems.

Developing these skillsets can help build long-term resilience and competitive advantage too and could be key to future business success and growth, especially in an increasingly virtual working environment. To reap these benefits, organisations need to collectively do their part to give a hand-up to the UK’s young talent facing an impending unemployment crisis.

By Dina Potter, Global Head of Social Impact at National Grid