Havas' Kate Robertson: Tackling youth unemployment makes good business sense

There are still 850,000 young people out of work, says the advertising boss. The businesses that change that will be rewarded.

by Kate Robertson
Last Updated: 28 Aug 2014

Unemployment figures are falling and the private sector is right to take some credit for this improvement here in the UK. But we, the business leaders and influencers, are still guilty of leaving young people behind.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) released research last week showing that business is making some progress in tackling youth unemployment, as employers take on more work experience students, expand graduate schemes and look to hire more apprentices.
Yet an alarming 850,000 young people remain out of work. There is an urgency for CEOs and business leaders to address this, not simply to tackle the economic and social issues of youth unemployment, but to future proof their businesses.
Young people are behind many of the key innovations in global business. Any corporation that fails to introduce the next-generation of change makers into their leadership ranks risks falling behind, while the businesses being driven and founded by the under-30s will charge forward.
We know the young will always be the key influencers: brands are falling over themselves to be featured on YouTubers’ vlogs, and young people’s spending power will eclipse that of boomers by 2018.
And why should this not translate to the workforce? Businesses who strive to keep up without young people at the heart of the business risk isolation from their customers. My industry, advertising, has changed beyond all recognition in the past few years and we would never keep up without our young talent – let alone stay ahead of the curve.
This younger, more socially responsible generation will also be essential in influencing major changes in business – namely that business will be a power for good.
In the most recent One Young World global consultation process, we found 73% of young people said businesses should prioritise sustainability over profit, 68% believe social media has made business more transparent, while just 10% agreed economic development is more important than environmental protection.
For savvy, profit-driven CEOs, this will be seen as a huge opportunity to gain a competitive advantage: take Paul Polman’s sustainable living business model at Unilever, which is on track to achieve its target of halving the company’s environmental footprint and doubling profits by 2020.
Putting a halt to youth unemployment is certainly a challenge, but it doesn’t compare to the risks posed by not finding a solution.
Many employers will take a short-cut and blame education or a lack of ‘talent’, but the shortfall between what the school system delivers and what employers require will not be fixed by government reform.
Take the fact that 86% of young people believe business should play a more active role in education. They are seeking the support we can offer and if we aren’t finding what we need on the graduate market, we need to invest in and partner with education – to ensure graduates and school leavers are ‘job ready’.
The lambasting of young people for being inadequately prepared for the world of work is not always just: just as many jobs that aren’t ‘young people ready’.
The reality is, young people today are looking for more. This is a generation looking to make a job, not just take one – with only 19% believing schools should encourage people to follow traditional career paths over entrepreneurship. Jobs which offer no opportunity to lead or to contribute to the business’s strategy will simply not appeal to them.
We must reconsider our approach to employing young people. It should not be seen as a service to prevent rises in unemployment, but as a way for employers to leap over the competition and drive their business forward in a sustainable way.
- Kate Robertson is the Global President of Havas Worldwide and the co-founder of One Young World. In November, she will speak at MT’s Inspiring Women conference. Book your ticket here.

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