Voice of Leeds Summit 2015: Panellists tackle youth unemployment

Panellists at the second Voice of Leeds Summit 2015 deabte youth unemployment. Picture by Simon Hulme
Panellists at the second Voice of Leeds Summit 2015 deabte youth unemployment. Picture by Simon Hulme
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Prominent figureheads across the city gathered at the YEP’s office to discuss how to break down barriers facing young job hunters in Leeds.

In the latest YEP Voice of Leeds Summit 2015, leaders from the public, private and third sectors pooled their ideas and expertise to tackle the issue of youth unemployment.

Panellists at the second Voice of Leeds Summit 2015 deabte youth unemployment. Picture by Simon Hulme

Panellists at the second Voice of Leeds Summit 2015 deabte youth unemployment. Picture by Simon Hulme

This was the second in the flagship series of summits, organised in partnership with Leeds Community Foundation and chaired by its chief executive Sally-Anne Greenfield.

It heard confidence is one of the major barriers to those seeing work as Gary Blake, of Voluntary Action Leeds, found in research among Leeds NEETs - Not in Education, Employment or Training.

The study found 39 per cent of NEETs said boosting their self-confidence would help them get into work and 74 per cent said wouldn’t ask for help even if struggling.

Gary said: “It should be the case that young people feel they have lots to contribute but there’s that lack of confidence.”

He said not hearing back from jobs also compounded the issue: “Many said how demoralising that was. Some said even if they got a letter to say thanks but no thanks, it would have made a big difference.”

His research among Leeds NEET also recognised lack of skills, such as English and maths, as a barrier.

Sue Wynne, Leeds City Council’s chief officer for employment, said young people can have skills but don’t recognise them within themselves or have the right language to engage with an employer.

She said: “That’s the biggest challenge. It’s self esteem, self confidence, and giving people the knowledge of a workplace and language they use to engage with it.”

But Charlotte McEvoy, programmes manager at Your Consortium Ltd, said: “We say a lot about making young people fit but shouldn’t we also make employers fit for young people?

“Yes we have to make sure young people are ready for work but actually we have to make sure that there are good employers willing to take a chance on a young person. I’m keen to see standards of employers go up in the area.”

The quality of careers guidance was highlighted as a major issue in getting young people into jobs - and the need to give that guidance at a younger age.

Jon Brookes, community manager at Leeds developer Hammerson Plc, said “If I advertise for a dryliner, I will probably get one applicant. But if I advertise for a plumber, I’ll get loads. It’s an awareness issue.

“I think there’s a huge chunk of work to do around working with young people at a much earlier age. And from an employer perspective, to be able to engage at an earlier stage.”

Caroline Harrison, chief executive of Aspire-Igen Group, which supplies careers advice to schools, said it is expensive so schools only tend to use it for year 11 pupils.

She said: “We would want to start talking to year eights but schools can’t afford that. They have precise resources and only buy it for when they need it.”

**Panellists on the YEP Voice of Leeds summit agreed on the need for more employers in the city willing to take a risk on younger people.

Caroline Harrison, of Aspire-Igen Group said in her experience, employers are reluctant to consider some of those who are young and unemployed.

She said: “The young people who have the most barriers are not attractive to employers. We need more forward thinking employers to come forward and offer opportunities, in little steps.”

Heather Nelson, chief executive of Black Health Initiative, said employers need to better understand barriers facing young people and not make matters worse.

“They might inadvertently be putting some up. By putting criteria in that is not necessary sometimes,” she said.

As well as better careers advice, the summit heard closer links between businesses and schools is critical to boost youth employment and involving employers in ‘employability’ training.

Matt Thomas, chief executive of Leeds Apprenticeship Training Agency, aid: “Sometimes [companies] are gobsmacked by the young person’s talent and the talent they are looking for is sometimes personality. We need to accelerate that, and make it easy for the business, because they obviously have businesses to run.”

Jonathan Morgan, MD of Morgans City Living and a trustee of LCF, said the number of professionals in a city “the size of Leeds” could help address the “skills gap” in basic needs of youngsters.

“There are really simple things, like confidence, basic numeracy, literacy and ability to present themselves in a professional way. That’s not rocket science.

With 1,500 16-19s who are NEET and 3,500 unemployed aged 16-24, he added: “That’s 5,000 people who depend on help at a basic level.”

He also called for a need to for a name to be given to describe the act of employing a young person - to encourage more companies to do so.

Sue Wynne, of Leeds City Council, agreed, adding: “Give it a name so businesses can get involved. If we see Leeds as investing in the younger generation, we can get more credible businesses to sign up to it.”

Speaking after the summit, chairwoman Sally-Anne Greenfield, chief executive of Leeds Community Foundation, said: “The second summit covered a huge amount of ground but key points to me were that some of the barriers stopping young people getting a job are easier to tackle – improving self-confidence, good careers advice and a better understanding about the world of work.
“Surely, as a city, we can come up with some solutions to these?”