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The business case for investing in the young and unemployed

John Stewart, director of human resources for SSE, explains that it pays to invest in young people

Companies that value diversity should consider offering positions to unemployed young people, according to John Stewart, director of human resources for SSE.

“If you’re looking at your recruitment pipeline it is worth considering,” he told HR magazine. “There’s both a great business case and it provides benefits for society.”

As explained in Barnardo’s Changing lives, growing value report, SSE offers 16- to 24-year-olds receiving Jobseeker's Allowance a six-month placement. They are treated like other employees and are paid the National Living Wage as set by the Living Wage Foundation. The aim is for them to develop the skills they need to support themselves towards full-time employment, further training or continued education. They receive additional support from Barnardo’s if required.

Stewart told HR magazine that he hopes the programme will help mitigate the effect of the ‘wage scar’ – the lifelong negative impact on an individual’s earnings caused by a period of unemployment in youth. “They can struggle to catch up in their working lives,” he said.

Lesley Bollan, a Barnardo’s project worker heavily involved in delivering the programme, said the scheme provides a foundation for participants to take control of their money, accommodation, and family issues. “Barriers can range from not having qualifications, all the way to things like caring responsibilities,” she said. “Support has to be as diverse and flexible as participants’ reasons for joining the programme.

“Solving youth unemployment is not the sole responsibility of the private sector – but it certainly has an important role to play. Youth unemployment remains high on the political agenda, and for good reason. Working with SSE provides the resources to take measures that try and prevent problems before they materialise.”

Stewart added that the biggest surprise has been the programme's return on investment. For every £1 SSE invests in the Barnardo’s Works programme there is a return on investment of £7.67 over five years. “We’re delighted to see that,” he said. “The bottom line is: it pays to invest in diversity.”