It is our responsibility to engage with communities and our shared challenges

Stephen Stewart is the Distribution Director for SP Energy Networks and led a Prince's Seeing is Believing visit to Rhyl on Wednesday 4 October. The visit focussed on the role of employers in addressing long-term youth unemployment and included sessions at a local JobCentre Plus and secondary school.

When I became an apprentice, I had a potential route into employment. I was trained and I was paid. There was a process that I was a part of. At times it wasn’t straightforward, but there was a path forward for me.

In today’s Wales, the path forward for many people isn’t at all straightforward.

Long-term youth unemployment

Unemployment figures for people of all ages fluctuate – this is the nature of the labour market. However, in Denbighshire the youth unemployment rate currently sits at higher than for North Wales, at around 14%. With 16.2% of households classified as workless there are families experiencing second and third generation unemployment.

At the same time, reporting indicates there could be as many as 37,000 vacancies in Wales but nearly one third of applicants lack the basic skills required for those roles.

It is generally accepted that being in employment is better for individuals and the communities they live in than the alternative. The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimate that people who are unemployed for more than 12 weeks are between four and ten times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety (with the potential follow on costs on local health services). Whereas being employed provides opportunities for social contact, physical activity, opportunities to use skills, a sense of achievement and of course financial remuneration.

The role of employers?

Given that context, why did I lead twenty senior leaders on a Seeing is Believing visit to Rhyl?

Because there is a role for employers to play in first understanding and then engaging with the issues being faced in the local communities served by the business and the communities where customers, suppliers and clients come from. Because there is a way to do business and to do recruitment and to do community engagement which not only has a positive impact on individuals who might be seeking work, but can also return value to organisations.

As a major infrastructure employer SP Energy Networks wants and needs a talented, skilled and diverse workforce. Young people entering the labour market for the first time – or those people looking to return to employment, want a supportive, secure and engaging employer. As a responsible employer, I believe we can do both.

Engaging with young people

Engaging with schools is shown to improve the life chances of young people. Research from the Education & Employers Taskforce shows that higher numbers of employer engagement opportunities in schools (typically four or more) can help to reduce the chances of becoming NEET by 86%. The research also shows that young adults who took part in these kinds of activities earned up to 16.4% more than peers who did not take part in any employer engagement (Education & Employers Taskforce, 2017).

But working with schools is just one part of how a responsible business could take action. So during the Seeing is Believing visit I led, I encouraged leaders to think about what they could do and how they could work with partners to make a positive difference in the local area.

The phrases “no man is an island” and “we can’t boil the ocean” spring to mind. It’s not – and will likely never be – about one company or one organisation doing everything. It is about understanding the issues, recognising what can be done and identifying where employers, of any size and sector, can add value to a community organisation, school, charity or even research project.

It can often be all too easy to support activity from afar and reduce ones’ understanding of the issues at hand and what things like the transition to Universal Credit mean, so I was delighted to lead this Seeing is Believing visit and start the process of helping colleagues understand some of the challenges and start people thinking about what they can do.