AS the North-East 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, writes Jonathan Townsend, Regional Director, North of England, The Prince’s Trust
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 for their services, 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. In fact, more than half (59 per cent) of North East 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 more than two-fifths fear it would cause businesses to fold (45 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 the North East who are still desperate for work. Indeed there are almost one in four (24 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 the North East’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 75 per cent of North East business leaders see the recruitment of young people as vital to averting a skills crisis.
Prince’s Trust programmes in the North East are already helping employers to fill skills gaps with young people who are dedicated, passionate and grateful to have been given a chance – sometimes for the first time in their life. We also work in schools, helping to give young people the skills they need to find a job in the future.
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 in the North East such as Marks & Spencer, Asda, and Swissport.
One such young person is Ann Marie Patterson, 22, from Seaham, County Durham.
Ann Marie enjoyed school but struggled academically and left at 16 with low grades. She tried further study but felt unsupported and left to find work. Ann Marie spent a year searching and was delighted when she finally found work with a local charity. However, after six months, her contract was not renewed due to lack of funding. She attempted to find work afterwards but was left disappointed when she found it difficult due to having little real vocational experience or skills.
Ann Marie said: “I was having no luck applying for jobs and I couldn’t understand why so I took courses to see if I could improve my CV and skills but it didn’t help. I was at rock bottom and my confidence was almost non-existent. Not having a job and structure to my day combined with constant knock-backs made this one of the hardest times of my life.”
She was unemployed for a further two years and losing hope when she got in touch with The Prince’s Trust, who put her forward for the Get into Retail programme in partnership with Asda, which aims to provide young people with the skills and experience to move into the retail industry.
She impressed Asda so much on the course that on completion she was offered a permanent position in the Seaham store as a shop assistant. AnnMarie is thriving in her new role and thrilled at having been given that chance to use her skills and finally prove herself.
The Prince’s Trust worked with more than 3,942 disadvantaged young people in the North-East last year, but with more support from the public and private sector – we could help many more.
Only by working together to invest in the next generation will we be able to avoid a skills vacuum in the future.
To download The Skills Crunch report and find out how your business can get involved with The Prince’s Trust please visit: www.princes-trust.org.uk/skillscrunch.