A NEET idea to help young people back into work


Creating value is the subject I’ve been studying on the latest module of the Ashridge MBA and there’s no doubt it has helped to underpin my thinking on a subject I’m passionate about – supporting young people into employment.

Added on 01 August 2013 by Erika Lucas

A NEET idea to help young people back into work

Creating value is the subject I’ve been studying on the latest module of the Ashridge MBA and there’s no doubt it has helped to underpin my thinking on a subject I’m passionate about – supporting young people into employment.

Investing in the wealth of young talent coming into the workforce is one of the best ways to create value for shareholders – and yet it’s an area where there seems to be a real disconnect.With 1.2 million unemployed young people in the UK and a serious skills shortage on the horizon it seems incredible that we aren’t developing the next generation to fill the gap. So what’s going wrong?

My view is that part of the problem is that young people and employers are seeing the world of work through completely different lenses. Employers complain that the young people who come knocking on their doors are not sufficiently ‘work ready’ and don’t seem willing to start at the bottom. Organisations are particularly reluctant to take a chance on a young person who has left school with no qualifications fearing they will have to invest too much time in bringing them up to speed or worse that they will have the wrong attitude and could potentially damage the company’s reputation.

On the other side of the coin are the ‘Generation Y’ employees who are entering the workforce now. Recent research from Ashridge has shown that they are hungry for progression (often before they are ready) expect public recognition for their achievements and are uncomfortable with the formality they find in the workplace. They often struggle to see why they should take a ‘menial’ or ‘bottom rung’ job at minimum wage rates when they can bide their time on benefits until something more exciting comes along.

Now there are a number of policy changes that would help to improve this situation many of which are currently being debated – but I believe what is also needed is a fundamental shift in mind-set on both sides.

Many of those in leadership positions in business today started out with no or very few qualifications themselves. This is not something however that many are prepared to admit to – and it’s ironic that in an era where there is so much emphasis on formal qualifications many of them probably wouldn’t recruit their younger selves. It’s my firm belief that it’s incumbent on people who have made it to the top to give a proverbial ‘leg up’ to those who are struggling in the same way they once did. One of the sayings we have in sport is that we need role models you can look ‘in to’ as well as role models you can look up to. This will only happen if more business people are prepared to be open and honest and say this is where I started this is where I am now and these were the steps I took along the way.

We need more businesses to take a positive approach to the recruitment of young people – particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds or those who for whatever reason have struggled in the formal education system. We need to mentor them help them develop a greater understanding of the world of work and support them through the vocational qualifications that will provide formal recognition of their skills.

Of course the solution doesn’t just lie in the hands of employers – there’s no doubt that some young people need to change their attitude and get real about the fact that they will need to do the groundwork before they can start earning the six figure salary. There are plenty of others however who do aspire to be in work. A recent survey by the University and College Union of more than 1000 NEETs (young people Not in Employment Education or Training) found that nine in ten actively want a job and to be offered the opportunity to train. Almost half however said they needed help to boost their confidence and one in three wanted good quality advice about applying for jobs.

Bridging this gap between young people and employers is exactly what I am trying to do with my i-TANG initiative – a six-week programme designed to equip young people not in work or training with the basic skills and knowledge they need to get them on the career ladder. What makes this programme special is that we work with employers to help identify suitable job opportunities for those taking part. A two-week work placement is a key part of the experience – and everyone who successfully completes the programme is offered an interview for a bonafide job. Ongoing support and mentoring continues after the initial training – an aspect that has proved to be key in helping young people remain motivated and positive about their future.

Part of my motivation for doing an MBA at Ashridge is to give me a deeper understanding of the challenges facing businesses today – something which I hope will help me inspire more of those at senior level to share my passion for developing young people whatever background they may come from. We were all young once and remember the people who gave us the opportunity – my career in track and field athletics for example might never have happened without the active support and mentoring of Sgt Iain McKenzie a senior manager in the Army who recognised my potential and encouraged me to fulfil it.

There’s a lot of talk about putting corporate social responsibility into action – and supporting young people is a great way to do that. But it’s also about making a personal contribution. So what can you do today to help a young person into work?

  • Kriss Akabusi is currently studying for the Executive MBA at Ashridge Business School. For more details about his i-TANG project contact caroline@akabusi.com