How 5,000 young people across Leeds city region will have chance to gain job of their dreams

Michael Houlihan aims to destroy barriers which are stopping young people from achieving their potential, writes Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.

Michael Houlihan CEO of Generation UK & Ireland

THOUSANDS of young people in Yorkshire will soon be offered a route into jobs which seemed beyond their wildest dreams.

Michael Houlihan is on a mission to ensure more people from BAME (black and minority ethnic backgrounds) secure senior positions in fast-growing sectors. As CEO for the UK and Ireland for Generation, he wants to prepare, place, and support people into life-changing careers that would otherwise be inaccessible.

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The organisation, which has its head office in Washington DC and is a registered charity in the UK, aims to confront one of the biggest challenges of our times. Globally, more than 75 million young people are unemployed and there are 375 million workers of all ages who need to learn new skills by 2030. Generation is working to transform education to employment systems, so staff and companies can flourish.

Mr Houlihan said: “In the UK we are focusing on sectors which are likely to be significant in the post-Covid world, such as the digital and health sector. The flourishing tech ecosystem in the Leeds city region represents an amazing opportunity to help people into life changing jobs. The Leeds city region is also such a hotbed and critical for areas such as health and care, with Skills for Care, NHS Digital, all based here.

“We want to have a long term presence in the region. Generation was founded in 2015 by two McKinsey partners (Mona Mourshed and Ali Jaffer) who were acutely aware of the magnitude and severity of the global problem with youth unemployment, exacerbated by the financial crash.”

Surveys indicate that around 40 per cent of employers are struggling to find entry level staff with the right skills. The founders analysed around 150 scheme that were trying to bridge the gap between employers and young people. They found a few schemes were performing well, but at a relatively low scale.

The rate of success of most schemes - in terms of getting people into jobs - was typically running at 30 to 40 per cent.

Mr Houlihan said: “That relatively low conversion rate has a big impact on economics, and so limits the scalability. Generation set out to achieve a much higher job conversion rate, and at scale. Since then, the level of success for Generation has been around 80 per cent.”

“Social mobility is not a level playing field and inequality has increased over the last 20 years.”

Generation has been up and running in London and Manchester for two years, with Birmingham and Dublin joining the programme in 2020. Now it is the Leeds city region’s turn.

“The critical thing is to understand where the employment opportunities are,’’ Mr Houlihan said. “Everything tends to click into place once the work pathways are identified and created.”

Generation has worked with the NHS and Manchester Foundation Trust to develop a curriculum to train nursing assistants.

“To do so, we went through a process we call ‘activity mapping’. We shadow nursing assistants on the wards for more than 100 hours, and conduct a number of interviews to understand what it takes to be great at that job,” said Mr Houlihan.

“We are building a team in Leeds city region and hope to employ 10 to 20 people over the next few years. We have a close relationships with the DWP and charities, which are always really effective partnerships. Those charities, and other provisions, are often helping people at an earlier step in their journey towards work, and Generation is focused on that last step of training and placement directly into employment.”

Around 70 per cent of the people Generation worked with in 2020 were from BAME communities.

“This is a direct result of focusing effectively in the community,’’ said Mr Houlihan. “It’s a great shame when people do not put themselves forward for these schemes because they don’t identify with them. They think a career in tech is something inaccessible to them.

“So we invite our past graduates to act as spokespeople, with inspiring people talking to communities, often with a high percentage of BAME people, to talk about their journey.”

Over the next three and half years, Generation aims to work with around 5,000 people in the Leeds city region.

“We are able to deliver our tech programmes fully online, and we continued to deliver those over 2020 through to now,’’ he said. “These will be the first programmes to launch in the Leeds city region and over 2021 we aim to help at least 100 to 200 young people in the region.

“We hope to be able to run programmes supporting thousands of young people in the Leeds city region for many years to come.

“We have also now been approved as a gateway provider for the KickStart scheme (which helps young people on to the first rung of their career ladder) and are representing around 80 employers so far, who between them have offered around 800 work placements across the country,’’ he added. “We are delighted that includes a number of employers from across Leeds city region, and we’d love to help even more. “

The pandemic has heightened awareness of the need for Generation’s services. Mr Houlihan is determined to rise to the challenge.

“These are bleak times unfortunately,’’ he said. “We feel a responsibility to do as much as we can.”

Michael Houlihan joined Generation in July 2018 to lead the programmes in the UK & Ireland.

Before joining Generation, he was COO and director of the board at two award-winning, VC-backed technology start-ups. He holds a BA in Economics and Mathematics from Edinburgh University, and an MA in Economics from New York University.

He said: “Another part of our agenda is to build wider awareness and celebration of different models to help unemployed young people into jobs. The tech sector is clearly going to be a critical part of the local economy over the next 10 years.”

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