· Features

Large employers must assist SMEs to help young people

In June, I wrote about how our young people face a range of barriers to entry to the workplace – the biggest of which is arguably the ‘Death of the Saturday Job’.

This followed the publication of research by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which showed that although employers report most young people are well prepared for the workplace, the overriding issue is a lack of work experience - the sort of experience those of us from an older generation would have acquired through part-time, weekend or seasonal employment.

As a way of filling the void left by the demise of the Saturday job, I challenged employers to think about creating alternative ways in which young people can engage with their workplaces: initiatives ranging from mentoring and site visits, to mock interviews and talks in schools and colleges.

This challenge seems to have struck a chord because, as I've attended various employer events across the country over the summer, it's become clear there is both a growing awareness of the issue and a genuine desire to take positive action to make a difference.

Small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) seem particularly keen to play their part, which is encouraging because smaller organisations are playing a bigger and bigger role in the UK economy as a whole.

For example, as I've highlighted in the past, between 1998 and 2010 the proportion of the private sector workforce employed by businesses with more than 250 employees fell from 50% to 40%, while the share of the workforce employed by businesses of up to four people rose from 11% to 22%.

However, in the same way our young people face a range of barriers to entering the workplace, SMEs are telling me they are facing barriers too - and the biggest of these is resources. Although SMEs are keen to get into schools and colleges to deliver workshops or facilitate enterprise programmes, they simply lack the required materials.

There are, however, two tried-and-tested routes to overcoming this barrier. The first is wholly in the control of many of the people reading this column, the majority of whom - according to ABC figures - are HR directors, heads of HR, CEOs, MDs, finance directors and chairmen. You all have one thing in common: a supply chain.

This supply chain will undoubtedly include exactly these SMEs who want to do their bit. I urge you to take the great work your business is already doing to the next level by engaging with your supply chain and giving them access to the materials you have already created. And while you're at it, suggest that they also take a look at an initiative, which has been created by Business in the Community - Business Class.

Business Class is a Government-endorsed programme that helps young people develop the skills, aspiration and motivation they need to succeed in the world of work by forming long-term partnerships with schools.

What makes it different from other employer/ education partnerships is that school and business partners in a particular locality are grouped together into a cluster, enabling them to meet on a termly basis to share materials, best practices and common challenges.

Only with hindsight can those of us who had part-time weekend or seasonal work appreciate the debt we owe those jobs in helping us get a foot on the first rung of the career ladder. And I believe we can repay that debt by enabling as many businesses as possible to fill the vacuum that the death of those jobs has left behind.