Wasting unlocked talent is no laughing matter

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The chancellor, George Osborne, should heed the lesson of a school-leaver with one GCSE who now has a top job in the City. The government and employers must wake up to the costs of not employing and training the young. Wasting unlocked talent is no laughing matter, says Katie Allen, the Guardian’s economics reporter.

“This is the stage where people either make it in life or don’t make it in life. They go to college or do gang culture.” Daniel Clarke thinks back to the summer he left school in East London with one GCSE. A bright student, with six older siblings – “all very successful” in his words – the teenager was overwhelmed with family members pushing him to pay attention.

He did anything but. “I didn’t really take school life seriously. There were a lot of distractions.” And so he left secondary school without the grades to go on to A-levels and no qualifications to tout to potential employers.

What happened next is a lesson in labour market mechanics that any government would do well to consider.

For one facing near-record youth unemployment it should be essential reading. At one in five, the unemployment rate for 16-24-year-olds is more than double the rate in the working population of all ages. More than a million young people in Britain are Neets – not in education, employment or training. Clarke did not become one of them, but is now in a senior role at a major accountancy firm in the City and responsible for 350 clients.

That is thanks largely to four things: work experience, careers advice, vocational training and employers who gave a young person a chance. All four are now woefully lacking in the UK.

Realising that the summer he left school was a make or break moment, the 16-year-old signed up for a vocational course at sixth-form college. It was there that a charity, Career Academies UK, put him on a new path. It had launched one of its “academies” in the college, one of 180 schemes now running in the UK, predominantly in areas of social need. As well as college studies, students undertake extra assignments designed to give them the “employability” skills that so many companies complain are lacking among young people. They practise interviews, build a CV, learn to search for jobs and, most crucially, do a six-week paid internship. For Clarke it was with oil traders at Citigroup in one of the Canary Wharf skyscrapers that had dominated the skyline and yet felt so out of reach growing up in nearby Walthamstow.

The internship changed everything. “I was an 18 year-old in a suit and going to work every day with people that earn £2.5m a year. I realised ‘Wow. I am here. I’m not on the outside. I have my own pass, I have my own meetings’. I felt this is something I can do, be part of.” The experience inspired him to go on to get a first-class degree – “my mum is lost for words” – followed by a job with a recruitment firm and now his role in the City.

Click here to read the full story in The Guardian.

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