Marc Bolland was the CEO of one of the largest retailers in Britain — Marks and Spencer (M&S) — but, after stepping down in April this year, he is now concentrating on getting unskilled and uneducated young people into work.
Bolland told Business Insider that he plans to do this through the Movement to Work, the charity he chairs.
He added that he and the charity are aiming to get 100,000 young people aged 16 to 24-years-old who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) a job at some of the largest companies in Britain.
“We recognise that many young people feel trapped in the ‘no experience, no job; no job, no experience’ cycle and fear that they are stuck on the scrapheap before their working lives have even begun,” said Bolland, who has also led supermarket giant Morrisons and, prior to that, the COO of Heineken.
“High-quality work experience can help address some of these negative emotional aspects, by having others see their potential but also in many cases enabling them to engage with their peers that are undergoing similar challenges.”
How huge corporations can help the NEET problem
Movement to Work is a charity that works with some of Britain’s largest employers, which include banks such as Barclays and HSBC, as well as engineering giant BAE Systems and pharmaceutical firm GSK.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there are 843,000 young people in the UK classified as NEETs.
“We know that those with poor educational performance, disaffection with education and low socio-economic status are more likely to become NEET. However, there are also many young people who are NEET with average levels of attainment, live at home supported by their family and, as such, can become ‘invisible’,” said Bolland, citing 2013 data from think tank Policy Network.
“Geography also appears to play a part, with the North East region being home to the highest proportion of 16-24 year olds who are NEET; with the West Midlands and the North West regions also having high proportions (according to ONS data from August),” he added.
Movement to Work has helped 50,000 young NEETs gain a job placement, as of 26 September.
“We need to do more to incentivise young people to stay in school, but for those young people that choose to leave the education system early, we need to provide them with opportunities to succeed. This includes meaningful work experience, traineeships and apprenticeships,” added Bolland.
“Young people need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills and experience to allow them to integrate into the job market. They also need to be given the means and the confidence to identify and pursue employment opportunities.”
“It is not a choice, but a necessity”
Bolland said that getting more NEETs into work and “supporting them towards employability is not a choice but a necessity.”
Not only does it help these people finally break the cycle of being unemployed and not being experienced enough to get on the ladder, but it also helps companies recruit from a previously untapped source.
“It should be recognised that employers gain from work experience placements, by providing them with additional talent recruitment pipelines, helping build a more diverse and inclusive workforce, and creating greater engagement with existing employees involved in the placements,” said Bolland.
“Our placements are making a real difference to the lives of disadvantaged young people, and giving them hope of a prosperous future. We are always looking for more collaborative partners, from any of the three sectors, to help grow our reach and impact.
“It is beneficial for companies to take on more young people through work experience, traineeships and apprenticeships — it enables them to send a clear message that they value the contributions of young people, but it also enables them to enrichen their talent pipeline.”
Britain’s headline rate of unemployment is at a near-record low of 4.9%. However, since Britain voted to leave the European Union on June 23, there has been much speculation over how exiting the 28-nation bloc will hurt jobs. Those who are already struggling to get on a solid career path — like NEETs — could be impacted the most.
When BI asked Bolland about how Brexit could potentially affect NEETs, he simply said: “it yet unclear how Brexit will affect youth unemployment. Regardless of this macro-economic uncertainty in the short term, Movement to Work remains committed to helping young people enter the world of work and having a positive impact on the social mobility agenda.”