Martina Milburn CBE: Solving youth unemployment


The chief executive of the Prince’s Trust on the mutual benefits of taking on young employees

This is an excerpt from Securing Britain’s Talent – read the full publication online now:
London business leaders tackle skills gaps, leadership issues, youth unemployment and workplace diversity


The government needs to make the benefits system compatible with training so that young people don’t sacrifice training or work experience opportunities for fear of losing support. Businesses also need to change how they hire young people. Forget the perfect CV and instead look for potential. Employers have the opportunity to mould young people into ideal employees.

Young people – particularly disadvantaged young people – often struggle to find full-time employment. So many lack the confidence, and the adult support network, to help them into their first job.

Although schools and job centres do their best to help, too many young people are falling through the cracks. In the worst cases, rather than helping young people find employment, the state support system can actually hold them back.

We see it every day: many young people that we work with struggle to take up training opportunities because they cannot afford their living costs while on courses – particularly those who don’t have parents who can afford to subsidise them. I know the government recognises this problem and is trying to make the benefits system compatible with training, but it is unbelievably complicated.

Many young people are so fearful that their benefits will stop if they take up training or work experience that they miss out on some fantastic opportunities. Although I fundamentally disagree with paying people to sit at home doing nothing, I believe that if a young person is doing a course designed to help them into employment, they should have certainty that their benefits will continue to support them (providing, of course, that they are on a recognised scheme).

With this extra flexibility, we could open up the system and help more disadvantaged young people to find employment. Young people need to be able to do work experience and gain the skills they need to start a career, while still making ends meet. An investment at this crucial stage will make it much more likely that the young person will move into sustainable employment, rather than cycling in and out of low-paid jobs and continuing to rely on state help.

We recently launched an employability scheme with Marks & Spencer to try to change perceptions and help those young people who are furthest from the jobs market. “Make Your Mark” is a four-week training and job placement programme designed to address the skills and experience gap that prevents young people from finding work, and M&S has set aside 1,400 placements for the scheme.

These are all young people who normally would not have made it through the M&S recruitment process due to their lack of qualifications or experience. But I’m proud to say that, since the programme, every single one of the first Make Your Mark cohort has been given a job. This is not because M&S is feeling kindly towards them, but because the company has seen that if you give them a chance, and extra support from an organisation like The Prince’s Trust, they will step up to the plate.

More than ever, employers have an important role to play in society. Helping disadvantaged young people to understand the world of work is essential. Often, all they really need to learn is how to be reliable, interact with others, and present themselves well.

Part of the solution is changing recruitment practices. Sometimes, you just need to take a chance with someone who doesn’t have the best CV, and recruit for the right attitude and potential. The M&S example shows just how successful that can be for both the young people and the company, with both sides reaping enormous rewards. It is not just the state and the welfare system that needs to change. UK plc, too, needs to give young people a chance – I can assure you that the vast majority of young people make bright, enthusiastic and loyal employees if only they are given the opportunity.


Martina Milburn CBE is chief executive of the Prince’s Trust

This is an excerpt from Securing Britain’s Future – read the full publication online now:
London business leaders tackle skills gaps, leadership issues, youth unemployment and workplace diversity

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