We know the UK needs growth: we hanker after our history of innovation. Yet, while we talk of a national skills shortage and – rightly – deplore high youth unemployment as the sacrifice of a generation, we consistently fail to fix it. Here is an issue whose impact is both social and economic, whose consequences are both immediate and long-term.
We can’t blame recession – this is not a new problem – or government. Even the latest, deepest spending review includes an extra £500m of science capital funding, and the government intercedes early in education by encouraging “stem” subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – in schools. Yet there is a real dearth, for example, of technicians, engineers and scientists coming through – which means less UK-originated intellectual property and hence fewer UK-designed products, less chance of renewing our manufacturing base and loss of export opportunities. Result: a stubbornly high deficit requiring ongoing spending cuts.
Recent signs of a UK recovery will not convert to widespread prosperity unless we tackle the conundrum that allows 20 per cent youth unemployment to coexist with our chronic lack of skills. Turning almost 1m jobless under-25s into the drivers of Britain’s future is both a business and social imperative. Inspiring a generation is not enough; what is called for in this case is investment. Investment in skills enhancement leads to innovation. Innovation leads to growth, growth to prosperity.
Government and others on the supply side are increasing their “push” towards a solution, but it is industry that retains the real capacity to create jobs. We as industrialists are the ones who must provide the demand-side “pull” to transform our national capabilities and with them, the prospects of Britain’s youth. It is time for employers to rise to the challenge and play their part by increasing their recruitment of young people and providing them with the training to build both a career and the UK’s bench strength.
This is why we are creating The 5% Club. We call on all UK companies to aspire to the goal for at least 5 per cent of their workforce to be in apprentice, sponsored student and graduate programmes within the next five years, and to report their progress in the CSR section of such public documents as their annual report as a key sustainability target.
By mobilising business to act in concert, we believe The 5% Club can ensure that industry makes a positive difference to our next generation – and to Britain’s long-term success in increasingly tough global markets.
- Leo Quinn, CEO, QinetiQ Group
- John Cridland, Director General, CBI
- Allan Cook, Chairman, Fellow Royal Academy of Engineering
- Dr Uwe Krueger, CEO, Atkins
- Peter Rogers, CEO, Babcock International Group
- Robin Southwell, CEO, EADS UK
- Steve Wadey, Managing Director UK, MBDA
- Sir David McMurtry, Chairman and CEO, Renishaw