Give young people a chance

In 2011 I made a commitment to taking on one new apprentice every year for the next 5 years and we are about to take on our third. When discussing this with other business principals I am often told I must be mad. How can I spare the time to train someone, some ask. Others just believe young people are lazy.

At FB we envisage our apprentices having a 10-15 year career with us. By providing an environment that will allow them to develop both professionally and personally, we believe they will become part of our team long term. So the time dedicated to intensive training in their first year really becomes negligible on the grand scale – and is well worth the investment. Training employees ourselves means that we can instil in them our core values and high standards of work right from the get-go. As for young people being lazy, I admit that our apprentices are rarely the first to put themselves forward for overtime. But that’s nothing the arrival of partners, children and a mortgage won’t resolve.

Nevertheless, despite the thousands of school leavers facing unemployment in this current economic climate, finding a suitable apprentice is harder than you think. Before the summer we contacted three local schools to ask whether they had any leavers looking for a hands-on engineering apprenticeship. We made it clear that exam results would be overlooked given the candidate had the right attitude, but over five months later we still haven’t received any applications. My gut feeling is that school leavers today just don’t have any understanding of the options are open to them. Many schools have stopped organising work experience and retailers who used to be the main supplier of part time work for young people now prefer to employ more experienced staff.

I did my work experience at Woolworths and had a part time job in a sports shop while at school and college. What did I learn? That some tasks are boring and repetitive and that work is not always fun. But the experience helped me grow in confidence by working with others and the public, and improved my influencing and negotiating skills, time management and practical application in maths. I also learnt how good it felt to have money in pocket.

At FB we had a paid intern help with an internet project last year. She added greatly to the project and it helped her get a much clearer idea of what she wanted to do as a career. Everyone was a winner. A member of our commercial team also started working for us part time, having struggled to find work after college. His confidence and ability grew massively with him soon becoming a key member of team. Of course, we have had a few less than rewarding experiences with interns and apprentices but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

If we are to get our economy back on track then we need to get more young people into the workplace. We need more companies willing to give young people a chance but we also need the government’s support – with tax rebates for employers hiring young people in their first job out of school and compulsory payment for interns. If we think we have a crisis with finding skilled staff now, in six or seven years we are going to have yet greater trouble finding staff with even the basic work skills. Businesses like us need to help young people get the skills and training they need so they can help us in return. There really is no better investment for our country than in our people.

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