Samantha Kennedy: Our economy should tap a generation of wasted talent

IN Britain, there are enough unemployed young people to fill every football stadium in the Premier League, with almost 200,000 left queuing outside.

Here in Yorkshire and the Humber, the number of young people claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance in the region has increased nearly five-fold since before the recession.

This untapped potential is a tragedy, not only for the young people behind the numbers – but also to our regional economy, which stands to lose millions if we don’t help them into work.

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At The Prince’s Trust, we know that young people have the determination and willingness to find jobs, but thousands lack the skills, confidence and opportunities to do so.

Many have struggled at school or grown up without a role model, thinking no-one cares. Often, these young people end up on a downward spiral towards long-term unemployment, drug and alcohol addictions and poverty, struggling to see anything positive in their lives.

Sadly, these are the barriers that prevent many of our region’s young people from finding a job.

Only by re-engaging young people can we hope to reinvigorate Yorkshire’s economy and tap into this lost potential.

Young entrepreneurs, in particular, are crucial to fuel our economic recovery. A new report published by The Prince’s Trust and Citi Foundation shows that disadvantaged young people helped into self-employment or work could boost the UK economy by millions. Locally, young people on The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme are already boosting the regional economy by more than £3m by setting up their own businesses or finding work.

This, alone, is proof that Yorkshire and the Humber can reap the rewards of economic growth by investing in young people and helping them turn their lives around.

I meet inspirational young people every day who are determined to turn things around for themselves and start their own business. All they need is a bit of help and investment to turn their dreams into a reality.

Take Oliver Guest from Bradford. He was given an unwelcome birthday present when the economic downturn cost him his job the day after his 21st birthday. Having just completed his apprenticeship, Oliver’s confidence was shattered by the news and had to go as far as selling his car to try and make ends meet.

Now 22, Oliver has turned his life around thanks to The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme. Having been unemployed for months, he approached the youth charity in the hope that they would be able to help him.

Thanks to the programme, Oliver is now running his own business, OG Joinery, thanks in part to a start-up loan he was given as part of the course and also due to the business mentoring he continues to receive. He hopes that by the end of this year his business would have grown sufficiently for him to be able to afford his own workshop and perhaps even employ further staff members.

Small businesses, like Oliver’s, may not be making big headlines but collectively they make a huge difference to the health of our economy by creating new jobs in areas where there are none.

Helping young people to start their own businesses can provide an escape route from the frustration and misery of unemployment. Organisations like The Prince’s Trust can help them realise their potential and, in many cases, transform their lives.

For the economy, there is a double benefit: boosting the business sector whist reducing the benefits bill. In short, by helping today’s young people we are investing in tomorrow’s economy.

The Trust’s work is now more relevant than ever, as so many young people are struggling to find their first job. We are now calling on business, local authorities and individuals to come together and support our work.

Only by working together can we change more young lives across the region.

We cannot afford to take the risk that the immense entrepreneurial talent we have across Yorkshire and The Humber goes to waste.

Now, more than ever, we need to step forward to support young people as they build the businesses which could be the foundation for our region’s economic recovery.

For more information on how you can support The Prince’s Trust, call 0113 236 8399 or visit www.princes-trust.org.uk/donate.

Samantha Kennedy is regional director for The Prince’s Trust in Yorkshire and the Humber.