Employers in big town and city locations make an attractive proposition for young workers and providers who, claims Salena Dawson, are becoming less interested in rural provision. She looks at whether such communities are being let down by businesses and providers.
I am a small business owner in a rural Norfolk market town. I am passionate about my community and, like many small independent business owners, I want to be integral to its continued existence.
Unfortunately, we the community (both business and residential) do not seem to be inspiring our young people to stay local.
Losing our young people or failing to attract younger people into our market town will have a detrimental effect on the prosperity and sustainability of our community and in the long term the loss of young people will impact the economic viability of local businesses like mine.
Like many market towns we have seen an expansion in population, but mainly on the outskirts of town.
This makes the accessibility to the nearest city shopping mall a better shopping experience than our high street with its many vacant retail units, or occupied shops — none of which sell young people’s clothes, shoes or jewellery.
We have no cinema, public swimming pool, bars or anything remotely extreme sport-orientated to entice our young people to remain local.
Quaint we are, cosmopolitan we are not.
We have an academy, but with no sixth form college. Those lucky enough to make the GCSE grade are shipped out to a shiny new world spending their pounds elsewhere.
Those not wanting FE are left often to find their own way — NEET [not in education, employment or training]. Aspiration in these young people remains low.
However, what we do have locally is around 1,000 small independent businesses, all with potential employers who could give work experience, employment, and mentoring to our younger people.
But we don’t.
It beggars belief that small businesses in market towns seem to be invisible providers
I have sat on the local chamber, been a member of the local partnership and even sat as an independent governor at the local school.
But more and more I become frustrated at the lack of communication between these groups to act to assist young people into local business. Instead we leave our young people to simply leave.
With the growth in apprenticeship schemes we would expect better communication by commercially-minded providers, but it beggars belief that small businesses in market towns seem to be invisible providers.
We small business owners find it onerous and time-consuming to proactively seek the right candidate.
There is a plethora of providers and the information at times is overwhelming.
Further time is wasted by mismatched candidates being sent for interviews because the provider is trying to pigeonhole candidates into unsuitable placements or into careers the candidates do not want.
Is it any wonder that small businesses give up trying to access the apprenticeship scheme as a viable way employing young people?
So how do we keep our young people local? We create an educational environment which sustains young people locally beyond the age of 16.
We provide better communication between schools and the business community by appointing a local business leader to be the conduit between the two. We start giving impartial careers advice.
We start making apprenticeship providers more accountable — it’s time for them to not only make the quick easy placements to large business, but also to take the time to know local business and match the candidate accordingly
Without retaining young people locally our community dies. It is incumbent on us in business to seek to retain skills locally and to create an environment where young people want to remain. To survive we need to pocket their pound too.
I remain passionate about my community and I hope to be integral in providing an environment which nurtures young people to one day feel this passion about their community also.
Salena Dawson, solicitor, Dawsons Law, Watton, Norfolk