By Jonathan Davies, founder and CEO at The Training Room

It’s worrying to see that, despite a nominal decline in numbers shown in last fortnight’s ONS report, a fifth of British 16-24 year olds – almost a million – remain out of work, study or training. Meanwhile, Sir Ian Wood’s analysis of youth unemployment in Scotland, released earlier this month, highlights a crisis that is proving to be a drain on the economy as well as an alarming waste of potential.

Of course, the problem isn’t just a Scottish one, it’s nationwide, and Sir Ian’s comments can be applied to any part of the UK. His call for a stronger focus on providing young people with the skills, qualifications and vocational pathways that will lead them directly to employment is a crucial one. I agree that the only way to address the UK’s youth unemployment issue is to give young people more choice at an earlier stage in their education, and this means offering alternatives to conventional study, which is currently failing them as an effective route into work.

What’s the problem?
One of the main issues surrounding youth unemployment is that once young people are at the point of leaving compulsory education and looking to get on the career ladder, the options available to them are increasingly narrow.

Those that choose the university route struggle to secure degree-related jobs after graduation, and with tuition fees rising, face huge debts. A report published last month by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Sutton Trust has estimated that the average student will leave university with more than £44,000-worth of debt and that many graduates will still be paying back their student loans well into their fifties.

Those opting for apprenticeships are also finding it difficult, with too few places available. Not enough employers are offering apprenticeship opportunities and the level of demand is now twice that of supply.

Fundamentally, the opportunities for young people to enter into a meaningful career are diminishing.

What can be done?
In order for this critical issue to be addressed, it’s vital that young people are made aware of their options.

Businesses need skilled staff today – not in several years’ time – yet fast-track vocational training continues to be overlooked by our education system. Traditional academic routes are still perceived as the only way to get on the career ladder. The reality is things have moved on, the landscape has changed and different action must now be taken to achieve different results for Britain’s next generation.

Up-skilling young job seekers can be achieved efficiently via fast-track vocational training and can help individuals into work within weeks and months rather than years.

What can businesses do to help?
Businesses have an important role to play both in raising awareness around this subject, but also in showing willingness to recruit from a wider talent pool. For decades they have employed graduates or apprentices into their entry-level positions. Yet if young people are to be made aware of other routes into employment, they need to see businesses taking on individuals from a variety of backgrounds.

Employers need to be open to hiring young people from all paths; graduates, apprentices and, now more than ever, the vocationally trained. As Sir Ian has said, business and industry must work together with those in education and with young people, to establish relationships that will benefit both sides.

What’s in it for them?
Broadening recruitment horizons is as much beneficial for businesses as it is for young jobseekers. The timescales of vocational courses mean those who choose them are more readily and consistently available than graduates and apprentices. Students can be qualified within weeks on fast-track courses, and be ready for employment much sooner than those studying for years at university or as apprentices. As a result, the vocationally trained are available for work year-round and businesses have the opportunity to recruit talented young people at any time, rather than having to revolve their hiring efforts around the traditional summer window.

Of course, business alone cannot solve the problem of youth unemployment; it requires coordinated action from a variety of stakeholders – from government to industry to academic organisations. But if young people begin to see businesses widening their scope when recruiting, they’ll start to realise the validity of vocational training options as door openers to fantastic careers.

Jonathan Davies is CEO at The Training Room, a careers provider specialising in fast-track vocational training across a range of industries, including personal training and beauty.