Good business is harnessing young talent

Recently, I joined a panel of business leaders, including James Caan, Peter Searle, Kay Allen and James Turner from the Sutton Trust, to judge nominations for the Deputy Prime Minister’s Opening Doors Business Awards 2013. These awards showcase the very best traineeships and recruitment schemes offered by companies signed-up to the ‘Business Compact’ – a commitment to career opportunities based on what you know, not who you know.

I was very impressed to see some of the largest companies in the country reaching out to young people from all walks of life. Of the 150 members of the Compact over half offer work experience to disadvantaged young people and 92% think opening up recruitment on a fairer footing will give their organisation a broader range of talent.

I also met some truly inspiring hard-working young people – they’re enthusiastic, eager and ready to learn, giving all they’ve got. With the odds stacked him, Adam Taylor worked hard to get on in life, supporting his family and defying his ‘special needs’ tag to work his way through college and university to succeed as a high-flyer at Airbus.

Adam was all but written-off in school but now is a great asset to his employer. That’s why leading businesses are looking for ways to make sure that young people with talent and drive no longer go unnoticed.

Channel 4 won the Deputy Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence as they have shown a commitment to inspiring and developing young people which runs right to the heart of the business. Other winners include law firm Slaughter and May for its incredibly successful school mentoring work; EE for targeting apprenticeships in areas of high-unemployment; and Marks and Spencer for its work to give young people who are not in education or employment a second chance.

Like these companies, I’m a firm believer that businesses big and small can do more to attract talented individuals from a diverse workforce giving the UK the edge we need to compete on a global scale. After all, a company’s employees are their biggest investment – you’re not only investing in your business, but in UK plc.

We need to cut through the system of informal networks, break down the barriers of university prejudice and family internships to recognise the potential out there – this means throwing our doors open to offer young people that chance to grasp opportunities. Growing talent in-house generates company loyalty like nothing else.

Talent is out there for the taking – and we need to recognise our young people have more attributes than just youth on their side.