Home Page How are our NEETS going to mingle with our entrepreneurs? 20/05/11

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Hart of the Matter

Two contrasting Haverhill events over the past week served to bring into focus one of the most pressing problems the town faces at the moment Ė its young unemployed people.


First, there was the very glamorous and prestigious Haverhill Business Awards 2011, hosted last Saturday evening by Haverhill Chamber of Commerce. Sadly, it wasnít in Haverhill itself, apparently because there isnít anywhere big enough or grand enough for such an occasion, attended by 250 glitzy guests.


This led to some shilly-shallying during the evening about exactly where we were. TV Apprentice finalist Claire Young was not able to talk about her first visit to Haverhill, or even about being in Suffolk, as we were at Chilford Hall in Linton, in Cambridgeshire.


Claire said it was by far the most glamorous Chamber event she had attended nationwide, but I bet it was also the furthest from the town from which its Chamber is named. And that distance is not just geographical.


Nevertheless, it was a splendid occasion, showing all that is best about Haverhillís economy, and particularly its entrepreneurial businesses and the often young people who run them.


The dominant age range at the event was considerably younger than it would have been a decade or two ago, and also, I would venture, younger than in other similar-sized towns.


Which brings me on to the second event, which was this morning, when the launch took place of the Supporting Young Haverhill project. This is all about reducing the number of NEETS in the town Ė young people Not in Employment, Education or Training.


A smaller and less prestigious event, which found a comfortable home in the auditorium of Haverhill Arts Centre, it could turn out, nevertheless, to be the more important of the two.


There are two divergent images of Haverhillís young people being projected here. In one, they are go-getting, successful, modern, capable and aspiring. In the other, while some may be all of the above, many are trapped in an old-fashioned downward spiral of joblessness, low self-esteem, poverty and, in many cases, addiction, often despite decent educational outcomes.


So the project aims to find out why, and has been talking to students, parents and employers.


I suppose the NEETS would find the business awards event, if they had been able to see or attend it, to be incomprehensibly distant from their current situation, supping cans of beer before 10am on the Rec.


And yet this is not some alien TV environment, or something taking place in an affluent corner of Surrey. It is another part of their own town, but one which they seem to be cut off from by more than just the eight miles to Linton.


At this morningís launch we heard the inspiring story of Hannah, a local student who came back from university, as she thought, fully qualified to follow her chosen career path as a journalist, only to find she couldnít get a job anywhere. She has now gone into PR and starting on a hopefully successful employment journey locally.


She told her story to those present, who included our MP Matthew Hancock, in an articulate manner which indicates she is likely to succeed but, if she has had to struggle, what of those less well prepared?


Of course, our excellent schools and colleges are a good starting point, but it seems to me the crucial element of what the project is trying to achieve will be played out in its partnership with local employers. Not everyone is able to start up and run their own business, and events like the business awards tend to send out the message that if you canít youíre in trouble in 21st century Haverhill.


Itís a misleading message, because there were awards for employees of the year as well as entrepreneurs and employers. But few businesses had nominated anyone for these, as far as one could make out.


Indeed, it was unclear from Saturday evening exactly how many local businesses are active in the Chamber. The nominations for the awards came from a limited pool, so either these are outstandingly better than the others who therefore didnít get a look in, or else the awards are still not reaching out to enough businesses.


The Supporting Young Haverhill project wants to reach out to more employers locally via business organisations like the Chamber, thinking they will be better able to spread the message. The other side of the coin, however, is that business organisations themselves struggle to bring in many local employers, and then can easily be seen as a cosy coterie themselves.


To help the NEETS, all parts of the Haverhill community are going to have to pull together. But at least the businesses which won awards on Saturday are setting spectacularly good role models for the community to point towards as it tries to broaden horizons and raise aspirations among its young people.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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