Norwich business leaders pledge to tackle ‘tragedy’ of youth unemployment
- Credit: Simon Finlay
Tap into the talent, creativity and dynamism of Norwich's young people. That was the plea to city businesses yesterday at the launch of a major initiative aiming to slash in half the number of unemployed young people in Norwich by the end of 2015.
The Norwich for Jobs campaign, backed by the Eastern Daily Press, was unveiled by Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, who called on companies of all sizes to think about the opportunities they could offer to young people – and the edge it could give their business.
Businesses which have already pledged their support for the scheme include Norfolk County Council, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, May Gurney, Marks and Spencer and Chapelfield shopping centre, where yesterday's launch was held.
Support has also come from City College Norwich, Howes Percival, Heatrae Sadia and Serco NNUH, with each business yesterday presented with an official pledge certificate, recognising their commitment to helping young people into work.
Miss Smith is leading a steering group of key Norfolk business and education figures whose aim is to halve the nearly 2,000 18 to 24-year-olds claiming Job Seekers' Allowance in the Norwich Job Centre Plus area.
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Addressing a packed room of around 130 people, Miss Smith thanked the businesses which had already shown their support for Norwich For Jobs, and urged others to follow their lead.
'We know that there are around 2,000 unemployed young people in the Norwich area at the moment,' she told the EDP afterwards.
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'We also know however that there are lots of opportunities, lots of vacancies out there.
'There are jobs being created, there are vacancies available. We're asking employers in the city to consider what they can do to help a young person for young people: perhaps take someone on, perhaps an apprenticeship, perhaps work experience – or offering young people the skills to get started in their own businesses.'
The 'stubborn problem' of youth unemployment was one which demanded action, she added. 'Nothing about this project is easy. It is a challenging project and we've set ourselves an ambitious target.
'We know that in Norwich we have a great set of local businesses and organisations prepared to give young people a chance and who know that they can find great talent for their businesses in our city's youngsters.'
Calling youth unemployment 'a tragedy' for those affected, she said businesses should also be aware of the economic benefits of recruiting youth.
'If you look at what you can get from an apprenticeship, you can get young talent that wants to stay with your business, learn the way your business works, that can actually help inspire your older workforce as well, and help you train your company be fit for the future.
'All of that has a benefit for every business that might want to come forward.'
Johnny Hustler, managing director of Archant Anglia, the Eastern Daily Press's parent company, urged businesses to help young people achieve their dreams and prevent their 'flames of ambition' being extinguished by frustration.
Davina Tanner, general manager of Chapelfield shopping centre, confessed to having a vested interest in equipping the workforce of the future – but one that shared by many others.
'The young people of today are going to be building this country and driving it forward so it I can live in it in my dotage,' she said.
'There's also that cliche: if you haven't got experience, you can't get a job; but if you haven't got a job, you can't get experience.
'We, as businesses, need to give those people the chance to step up to the plate, to prove themselves and to be empowered.'
Chapelfield is hoping to break the cycle by offering apprenticeships in customer services, facilities and waste management.
Guests also heard from 22-year-old Henry Carruthers, a member of the campaign's youth panel, who explained the hurdles facing young people entering the jobs market.
He said it was 'a real inspiration' to see so many people willing to address the 'stagnant blight' of unemployment among his peers.
'I don't want to preach that young people need charity – they don't,' he said. 'As a group we have a huge amount to offer.'
Dick Palmer, chief executive of City College Norwich and Transforming Education in Norfolk, said swift action was needed.
'It's really difficult for young people these days – the worst I've seen in my 20-odd years in further education.
'Young people bring a huge array of skills and attributes to a business,' he said, emphasising how young employees at City College had shown their innovation and creativity.
The campaign is being backed by the Eastern Daily Press and sister paper the Norwich Evening News.
Editor Nigel Pickover said: 'This is a hugely significant campaign for Norwich, for Norfolk, for the whole area.
'We want to make sure we've not got a lost generation of 18 to 14-year-olds, people who want to contribute, who are full of ideas, and who are lost at home without jobs to go to,' he said.
'We are behind this campaign all the way.'
And he sounded an optimistic note over the campaign's ambitious targets.
'I hope we're going to do all of the 2,000 jobs,' he said.
'If we can halve it in the first year, which is ambitious, can we halve it again in the second year? Then we'll be down to a few numbers.
'It will be ongoing – this is going to go on for the next decade.'