EMPLOYERS – public and private sector, large and small – must give young people the opportunity to get a foot on the jobs ladder.
That is the demand from Councillor John Paton-Day, the Lib Dem who recently led a Scottish Borders Council scrutiny working group enquiry into the relative dearth of work experience placements offered by his own council which happens to be the region’s largest employer.
And following a 60-delegate seminar discussing spiralling youth unemployment last week, he issued a plea for all sectors of business to “give youth a chance”.
Figures from Skills Development Scotland showed that the number of 16-19-year-olds in the Borders claiming Job Seekers Allowance in August was 310 – up nearly 38 per cent on the corresponding month of 2010.
“This trend is one we as a society cannot ignore and we have a duty as citizens to address it,” said Mr Paton-Day. “We have all seen recently the impact of disaffected youth in English cities and that cannot be allowed to happen here.
“There is a solution, but we have got to make it happen, not just talk about it.”
Mr Paton-Day noted that one employer who attended the seminar, held in Hawick and hosted by Scottish Secretary and local MP Michael Moore, said he was reluctant to offer work experience places because of past difficulties and issues over timekeeping.
“Of course, you will get cases of a square peg in a round hole, but that should not colour our views towards all potential work experience placements,” said Mr Paton-Day. “Many young people have hidden talents which have been latent and unexposed during formal education: a fact exemplified by the stunning success of the council’s Borders Production Unit [BPU] in Langlee which offers a range of work to youngsters without academic qualifications.
“My message to employers who feel that work experience is not for them is: if at first you don’t get the youngster you want, try again.
“To deny young people the dignity and satisfaction of work, the camaraderie and the sense of self-worth it instils, is so unfair. Those of us from generations who had so many opportunities at that age must ask ourselves how we would have fared if we had been similarly treated.”
Mr Paton-Day said he was “shocked” that several employers at the seminar were unaware of a government work experience scheme which offers two to eight-week placements to benefit claimants at no cost to the employers.
Employers who had already signed up, through Jobcentre Plus, included Hawick Knitwear, Lochcarron, Plexus, Marks & Spencers, Asda and NHS Borders.
Mr Moore stressed the need for joined-up thinking.
“Both the governments at Westminster and Holyrood need to work harder together to ensure the best use is made of resources and key partners need to collaborate more effectively to support young people into employment,” said Mr Moore.
“Employers need to think about what they can do to ensure young people get the chance to experience work to enable them to be more employable. The reality, at present, is that very few employers in Scotland recruited young people in the last two to three years and small businesses regard recruiting young people, particularly those who are inexperienced, as high risk.
“Employers most often cited lack of work and life experience as the main reason for poor readiness for work, but these, of course, are the skills which are best developed at work, which is why giving them the chance is so important.”
Mr Paton-Day, who is SBC’s designated champion for children and young people, believes his council has made progress since his working group’s damning report calling for a “substantial increase” in the number of youngsters gaining work experience in council departments, with that figure rising from zero in 2010 to 16 this year. Another 16 youngsters had been taken on under the Get Ready for Work programme and at the BUP and the number of traineeships had almost doubled in a year.
“Cuts in public spending make it difficult to increase the number of such placements, but, to my mind, we just cannot afford not to,” he told us.
Mr Paton-Day revealed he would now seek to garner support for his council to spearhead a one-stop shop or online hub facility which would bring together the services of employability organisations and match potential employers with young jobseekers, while also giving the latter information on how to set up their own businesses.
And he lent his support to a drive this week by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) to encourage more employers in the region to recruit apprentices.
“Last year, 117 apprentices were taken on by businesses in the Borders and it’s hoped more employers will follow suit ... there is growing support for the apprenticeship model as bosses and individuals recognise the earn as you learn benefits it offers,” said SDS chief executive Damien Yeates.
For more information about Scottish Apprenticeship Week call 0800 7836000 or visit www.sds.co.uk/modernapprenticeships