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A fix for youth unemployment you can bank on?

It’s not often you attend an event where the venue is a perfect metaphor for the message. And even more unusual when it’s completely coincidental. But that’s what happened in Norwich earlier this week, when the Big Lottery briefed local third and public sector people on a new and potentially exciting initiative.

Talent Match is, we were told, all about finding new ways to get 18-24 year olds into employment, education or training. Refreshingly, youngsters who were formerly not in education, employment or training (Neets) played a major role in designing the programme. They’ll play an equally important role when it comes to dishing put the dosh. I think that will give the programme a greater focus on outcomes, rather than outputs. The latter of course are easily manufactured to provide nice clean impact assessments. The former, while more qualitative and thus harder to measure, is what makes the longer term business.

I’m reminded of a fertiliser manufacturer’s sales conference I attended many years ago. Everyone had claimed the right sales figures in their patch because there were enough variables in the market to make this possible. The sales director pointed out that, according to rep reports, the company was just three years from 100% market share, something that clearly was at variance with what left the factory and was invoiced.

And so it is with the Neet challenge. I suspect that money has been paid for more outputs than there are Neet youngsters, with far too few of them delivering the lasting behavioural change that can break the cycle. In short, stuff so far hasn’t really worked, which is why this programme sought something new.

I won’t be too critical of those with me in that room in Norwich; most of them know where I live! But it was predictably unsurprising how the challenge to organise themselves into a single two-county consortium to divvy up the dosh led to something of a scrum. I opted out of the power play and instead chatted with Rhasan Brunner, one of the young people involved in developing the programme. He’s got what it takes to make a difference in the world and was an impressive, authoritative speaker.

It struck me that while others were focused on the money, this guy was focused on the need. He and his young colleague, the affable Craig Blake, knew better than anyone in the room where the answer to the Neet conundrum might be found. Of course there was lots of experience in the room, but as I kept thinking, this was all about innovation.

Which brings me to that metaphor. The venue for the briefing was a grand building erected as headquarters of Gurney’s Bank, one of the roots from which Barclays grew. Now it is a successful youth venue, but the architecture reminds you of the building’s original owner. Barclays of course tried to fix the outcomes too so that they could benefit and feed their organisation. They too lost sight of who the real customer is and they are currently paying the price, literally.

Was that a lesson everyone pitching for Talent Match money could learn from. You bet!

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James Derounian
James Derounian
11 years ago
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