Alistair Denton: After the GCSE results, the career choices

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FOR those students collecting their GCSE results today, the next few years could mean university, A-levels, further training, an apprenticeship, entering the workplace or, for some, unemployment.

Youth unemployment isn’t just a problem for those young people in Yorkshire who can’t find work, but also for the region as a whole at a critical moment in its economic development.

For young people, the loss of experience and income at the start of their careers can reduce their lifetime earnings and standards of living.

For our region, youth unemployment represents the loss of the combined efforts and skills of a wide cross-section of the population – skills that are vital if Yorkshire is to become globally competitive and contribute to the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

Businesses have an important role to play in tackling this problem and that’s why our charity, The EY Foundation, launched Smart Futures in Yorkshire. The charity runs employability programmes designed to give young people disadvantaged in the labour market a chance to get the experience they need to get ahead.

Now in its second year, the 2015 Smart Futures scheme saw 17 Year 12 students from around the region undertake three weeks’ paid business experience as part of the 10-month scheme.

The programme, which also includes mentoring for the students throughout Year 13, is designed to teach new skills, enhance employment prospects and give insight into a range of industries the students may not have been exposed to.

It is available to young people who are in receipt of free school meals or would be the first in their family to go to university.

One in three Year 12 applicants secured a place on the 10-month Smart Futures programme nationally, illustrating the appetite for the scheme. Around half of the students involved in the Yorkshire programme intend to go to university, whilst others would prefer to train with an employer, and some are looking at the EY school leaver programme.

Alongside the skills it teaches, Smart Futures is particularly valuable because some young people simply aren’t informed about their options after school. According to research, 79 per cent of parents from the North feel that their child doesn’t have a clear idea of what to do after leaving school or college.

Many parents themselves aren’t fully aware of the non-university options available.

Just over two-thirds said they knew nothing about school leaver programmes, only 53 per cent had some knowledge of vocational further education and just eight per cent were fully aware of apprenticeship programmes.

It’s no longer a case of university or bust. EY is currently recruiting for around 200 school leavers nationally and the volume of applications shows that there is a talent pool looking for alternatives to university.

The Northern Powerhouse is a bold vision. To make it a reality, Yorkshire needs the right mix of skills across a range of sectors to fill the vacancies that will encourage growth and further investment.

This has to start with young people right across the social spectrum. While co-ordinated public sector focus on skills is important, it mustn’t end there.

Businesses need to take the bull by the horns to promote their industries to young people and give their time to help them gain valuable experience.

And handing over a brochure isn’t enough; it’s important that young people are able to experience professions and gain valuable workplace skills.

We need to give them the knowledge to help them make informed decisions about their future careers, raise awareness of the different routes into employment and, critically, open their eyes to a range of growth industries where they could develop their skills.

As young people focus on their next move, Yorkshire firms can help to boost social mobility by improving access to their professions and removing potential barriers to entry. Their efforts could also improve the talent pool and help to drive growth during a period when economic focus on the North of England has scarcely been greater.

We need to do more to help young people in Yorkshire make informed decisions about their futures if we’re going to develop the skills needed to build a Northern Powerhouse – and business is well placed to help lead the charge.

Alistair Denton is a partner at professional services firm EY in Yorkshire and sponsor for The EY Foundation’s Smart Futures programme.