Businesses need to engage and invest in young people to build their talent pipelines, according to a panel of employers and experts on skills and employment speaking today at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)’s Annual Conference.
Michael Davis, chief executive at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, began the discussion by explaining that the high levels of youth unemployment we are witnessing today are structural, not cyclical. Youth unemployment in the UK has been growing since 2005, when vacancies were actually on the rise.
He urged employers to recognise that "the game has changed". With entry-level jobs in decline and growing numbers of small businesses relying on informal networks for recruitment, "the ladder has been pulled up" for young people.
Mr Davies also highlighted the underuse of apprenticeships in the UK compared with other countries, and discussed how employers could be put back into the driving seat when it came to investing in workforce development and training, outlining how they could apply for funding to develop their own skills and training solutions under ‘employer ownership’ pilots.
Anne Pickering, HR director at O2, and Toby Peyton-Jones, director of HR at Siemens UK and North West Europe, went on to share their own reasons for investing in young people and how they had done it.
Ms Pickering talked about the unique characteristics and mindsets that young "digital natives" can bring to an organisation, and how O2 has established a number of schemes to help raise young people’s confidence and empower them to use their skills and innovative spirit for the benefit of the organisation and wider community.
Mr Peyton-Jones talked about Siemens’ long-term approach to identifying future skills needs in line with global ‘mega-trends’ such as climate change and building the cities of the future. He asserted that high-quality apprenticeships were crucial to fulfilling the growing demand for engineers to meet these future needs, but said that the skills sector today is "brutally complicated" and difficult to navigate.
Minister for Employment Relations Jo Swinson talked about the need to redefine the status of apprenticeships, so that they were not seen as a poor alternative to university education, and restated the Government’s commitment to this agenda. “Supporting the country’s young people and helping them to get the skills they need to secure jobs is a key government commitment,” she said.
“Apprenticeships are at the very heart of our drive to equip people of all ages with the skills employers need to prosper and compete in a global market, and recent statistics show that record numbers have been taking up apprenticeships.
“Our Youth Contract has already supported over half a million young people by helping them gain access to training and other opportunities. There is more do to, and leadership from organisations such as the CIPD is key to ensuring that there remains a focus on supporting young people and helping them get into work.
Concluding the discussion, Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD, said, “The labour market is in the midst of huge change, and our research shows that businesses need young people as much as young people need jobs.
“Many employers have started to realise that it is in their interest to bring more young people into their organisations and invest in tomorrow’s workforce by engaging with education to help build the skills needed. But many more still struggle to do this, and levels of youth unemployment and under-employment remain worryingly high.
“The onus must be on employers, and particularly the HR profession, to help business unblock the talent pipeline that’s crucial to their future success. That’s why our Learning to Work campaign is calling on our 134,000 members to not only help prepare young people for work, but also make their organisations more youth-friendly."