Official figures published this week show the UK’s unemployment rate passed two million in the first few months of 2009, the highest level since the mid-1990s. Children’s charity Barnardo’s warns 16 and 17 year olds are one of the worst hit groups from the downturn, with 28% reporting being out of work. With the global economy unlikely to recover any time soon a solution to the problem could lie in youth enterprise. Rowenna Davis reports.
“It has never been more important to offer young people a range of employment options, and self-employment can be a route out of poverty and social exclusion,” says Michael Manning-Prior, chief executive of Enterprise Development Worldwide (EDW). “Many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have a vocational skill or an idea which, with the necessary support and business counselling, they can turn into a sound business venture.”
EDW is a social enterprise which has evolved from the long-established charity, Wandsworth Youth Enterprise Centre (WYEC). As well as working across a variety of UK locations, including inner city regions of London and Birmingham and rural areas of Scotland and Northumbria, EDW has also worked in the emerging and transitional economies of Central and Eastern Europe, and is currently involved in projects in Africa, the ASEAN region and the Caribbean.
A key feature of the youth enterprise model is its client-led approach, based on an underpinning philosophy of empowerment. An appropriate blend of counselling, participative learning and practical support is tailored to meet the needs of each young participant.
Manning-Prior says: “There is a particular need to engage with young people from disadvantaged communities and socially excluded and hard to reach young people, and to introduce them to the practical world of business and allow them to develop entrepreneurial skills and business knowledge.”
EDW’s support includes training in “therapeutic business counselling”. The organisation specialises in training business counsellors to work with young people aged 14-30 from deprived backgrounds and to offer them emotional as well as business support.
Manning-Prior says: “The support they offer must be holistic, flexible and – most importantly – led entirely by the young person in question. Budding young entrepreneurs need to be allowed to take control and develop their own ideas. This may not be something the young people are used to doing, but it’s important if they want to be successful in business. You can’t be a successful entrepreneur without taking responsibility.”
Because many socially disadvantaged young people have never even considered self-employment as an option, EDW trains other organisations to engage in outreach activities, such as running introductory workshops and group discussions to help raise awareness of the self-employment option. At the end of this process, those young people who want to move towards setting up their own enterprises are allocated a business counsellor to work with on a one-to-one basis. The counsellors are trained to help support their clients from the initial drafting of a business plan right through to opening day, a process that takes an average of seven to eight months.
Once a young person has engaged with the enterprise programme, the structure of the programme and the approach to supporting them revolves around their making informed decisions about their progression to the next stage of the process.
“We train business counsellors to pick up flags that may be preventing progress.” says Manning-Prior, “On the face of it, a young person might present with a problem relating to cashflow, sales or their business plan, but the business counsellor is trained to recognise that there might be other issues involved – problems with family, life partner and so on. The counsellors talk to the young people and encourage them to address the real issues”.
Prior to becoming Chief Executive of EDW, Manning-Prior was, for 18 years, chief executive of WYEC, the registered charity from which EDW evolved. Before joining WYEC, he gained business management experience in the small business sector, with direct experience of developing and running his own successful enterprises in the retail sector.
EDW works strategically with local authorities and other organisations to build capacity to develop and implement holistic programmes of enterprise support for all age groups, particularly young people. “Once such support models are in place they offer social workers one more referral option for young people who are capable of great things but in need of extra support.”
With support from organisations like EDW, young people could cease to become the victims of the recession, and start becoming part of the answer to it.