Capital challenge to grow teenage talent

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Skills council has pledged to put young people back in the city jobs market. Joe Clancy reports

From the eighth floor of her Oxford Street office, Jacqui Henderson has a panoramic view of her "parish" that constitutes the richest city in Europe.

Situated in the heart of the capital, the area she surveys stretches across 610 square miles and produces 20 per cent of the gross national product of the UK.

For Ms Henderson, the new regional director for London of the Learning and Skills Council, it presents myriad challenges that make her task unique.

London's 7.2 million people speak 300 languages between them and a quarter are from an ethnic minority.

English is an additional language for 46 per cent of primary pupils in inner London compared to 9.3 per cent for England.

The city is a magnet for people from other parts of the UK, from Europe, and from all over the world. Many stay for a year or two, taking low-paid jobs in the retail and hospitality sectors.

This creates problems that are largely specific to London. "There really is a ready supply of labour from people who don't regard London as their permanent home," she explained.

"As a result, employers are more reluctant to employ 16 to 19-year-olds.

Retail and hospitality employers can get older workers who come to the capital for two years or so."

The consequence is that London has the lowest percentage take up of modern apprenticeships of all nine regions, at just 5 per cent, against a national target of 28 per cent set by the LSC. She added: "We are working with employer networks to improve that, by encouraging small businesses to offer modern apprenticeships in retailing, hospitality, construction, jewellery, hairdressing, business administration and IT.

"We have a real challenge in encouraging employers to believe that employing a young person in a modern apprenticeship will affect their bottom line, and that this is going to make a positive difference to their community.

"It's about persuading employers there is a benefit for them, helping them to grow their own future managers from people within the community who have the right talents, experience and expertise."

The scale of the task means that she is the only regional director to have a deputy, Verity Bullough, and she is about to become the first regional director who does not have responsibility for a district within the region.

She is about to hand over control of the London central district to Ms Bullough, and a new executive director will be appointed to run the London north district she relinquishes.

In her new role, Ms Henderson has set herself an ambitious target. The director wants to redress the fact that, while London has an above average rate of 80 per cent of pupils who stay on in education after 16, it also has a high number of 16 to 19-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training.

"Over the next three years we will aspire to ensure that every young person is in education or training or in a job with training," she pledged. It's a big ambition, but we have to have high aspirations."

While London stands out as one of the most successful regions in the UK, it is also a divided city with extremes of wealth and deprivation.

The average gross weekly earnings of male full-time, non-manual London employees is a third higher than in the UK as a whole, and yet a fifth of the capital's wards are in the 10 per cent of the most deprived wards in the country.

She added: "It is a city of contrasts. In every borough there are people who have high incomes, and those living in poverty who are disadvantaged.

"A key task is to persuade small businesses that the more people who are economically engaged in their community, the more people there are around to spend money with them.

"We have a bigger percentage than the national average of people with a level 4 qualification. Some 45 per cent of the resident labour force have a degree, compared to 27 per cent of the UK as a whole.

"But we also have a lower average achievement rate at 16, with less than 50 per cent gaining five GCSE A*-C grades.

"Our challenge is to help adults who live in London who have no qualifications to gain them and give them access to jobs."

Ms Henderson added: "London is a dynamic community and great place to be, but we want to make it is a great place for everybody."

Capital facts

London National

Population 7.3m 49.5m

Average gross weekly earnings pound;642.30 pound;464.80

Average house price pound;260,658 pound;145,000

% of population with basic skills needs

Literacy 5% 3%

Numeracy 6% 5%

Not in education, work or training 8% 7.8%

16 to 17-year-olds in training 5% 9%

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