Jonathan Townsend: Region’s young potential must not go to waste

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AS Yorkshire and the Humber emerges from the recession, and is once more on the road to economic recovery, only now are we beginning to see real growth in our local industries.

However, to stay ahead, we must act and ensure that we harness the full potential of our region’s unemployed young people.

The reality is that while the crisis that rocked the UK and the region’s economy has abated and the region’s businesses are reporting heightened demand, local employers tell us they are increasingly concerned by skills shortages developing as a consequence of this accelerated growth.

Within The Skills Crunch, a new report from The Prince’s Trust and HSBC, business leaders highlight the damage that skills gaps could do, not only to staff morale but to company survival rates. They also raise concerns about how they will struggle to grow in the future as their ageing workforces retire.

More than half of British businesses are already struggling to fill vacancies. Two- thirds fear skills shortages will slam the brakes on the UK’s economic recovery (68 per cent); while one in three fear it would cause businesses to fold (35 per cent).

When the credit bubble burst in 2008 the damage to the local economy was devastating and many young people suffered due to the lack of jobs. This must be avoided if we do not want the same to happen again.

It is therefore deeply concerning when we have thousands of unemployed young people in Yorkshire and the Humber who are still desperate for work. Indeed there are more than one in five (22 per cent) young people currently struggling to find a job in the region right now.

The decisions we make today will have long-term consequences that must protect the local economy and our young people. We believe that now is the time for employers, government and charities – such as The Prince’s Trust – to work together to tackle Yorkshire and the Humber’s impending skills crunch and up-skill the workforce of the future.

We know that unemployed young people want to work and that employers have vacancies they want to fill. In fact, our report highlights that 72 per cent of UK business leaders see the recruitment of young people as vital to averting a skills crisis.

Prince’s Trust programmes in Yorkshire and the Humber are already helping employers to fill skills gaps with young people who are dedicated, passionate and grateful to have been given a chance. We also work in schools, helping to give young people the skills they need.

Our employability schemes are run in partnership with employers in sectors which have identified skills shortages such as construction, retail and logistics. We help to break down the barriers between unemployed young people, who often have little hope for the future, and employers, resulting in real jobs with companies such as NAViGO and DHL.

One such young person is Dominic Davis-Eaton, 20, from Grimsby. Dominic was just six-years-old when his father left suddenly. He was devastated and blamed himself. As he grew older, he enjoyed his primary school years but soon after he joined secondary school, Dominic found out that he had a health condition and was bullied.

Dominic became angry and depressed and began to skip classes. This led to him missing a large proportion of his school work until the age of 14 when he made good friends, and left with high grades and a place at college.

After going into his third year at college, Dominic was given the news that the father that he had missed for most his of life was in fact not his real father. This was a huge blow and caused him to dive deeper into depression. During this time, Dominic would sleep for 18 hours a day and cry most days. Things eventually got so bad that he attempted suicide.

He said: “I just couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and I honestly thought at the time that I had no other choice. It was one day when I attended the Job Centre that I heard about Get into Healthcare with The Prince’s Trust and NAViGO, a mental health services provider for the NHS. It sounded so interesting and the fact that I would gain experience and skills working with NAViGO staff and also some qualifications was a huge bonus.”

Dominic impressed staff at NAViGO so much that he was offered a job with them. He is now a Young Ambassador for The Prince’s Trust so that he can be a role model for other young people out there who need help.

The Prince’s Trust worked with more than 4,632 disadvantaged young people in Yorkshire and the Humber last year. With more support from the public and private sector, we could help many more. Only by working together will we be able to avoid a skills vacuum.

To download The Skills Crunch report and find out how your business can get involved, visit: www.princes-trust.org.uk/skillscrunch.

Jonathan Townsend is regional director of The Prince’s Trust.