I was working in a factory making refrigerated packaging when I got my first career break. A university friend phoned to say that a certain S. Kelner was giving a media talk. Did I want to come along?
One week (and 4,000 cardboard boxes) later, over a dubious pint in our student bar, Simon agreed to consider me for work experience. After two years, I was still there, happily making tea for reporters, watering the office rubber plant and earning enough to live in a 5ft-by-7ft boxroom in Shepherd’s Bush. A blessed start, no doubt.
I’m the oldest of three brothers – pity our mum – and as each of us began to look for employment the jobs market worsened. But we left the nest during an auspicious age.
As the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, tells i readers today, youth joblessness across the continent has become “a social emergency”. With nearly a quarter of Europe’s under-25s unemployed, EU countries’ social fabric is in jeopardy, he warns. And although heads of state will meet next week to discuss those school-leavers who slip ever further from that first pay cheque, they negotiate with little sense of urgency. “Come forward with national employment plans by the autumn,” Mr Barroso suggests.
A fine place to start would be offering much bigger tax breaks for companies which take on apprentices. We are launching our own scheme for 19- to 24-year-olds later this year, with government support. While the basic salary will help our successful trio as they learn on the job, more valuable is the opportunity – and hope.