The riots that hit London in 2011 sparked a national debate about social disengagement, especially among young people. The London Evening Standard did a considerable amount of investigative work in the year after the riots, highlighting youth unemployment as a particularly acute challenge.
For many media companies, such an investigation into a social ill would have been an end in itself. However, since it became a free newspaper in 2009, with a current daily circulation of 900,000, the Evening Standard recognised it has a responsibility not only to identify the problems of the city we serve, but also to tackle them if we can.
When it came to employment, we concluded that there was excessive focus on graduate level opportunities and that too few firms were taking the time to understand the value of potential employees who hadn’t, for a variety of reasons, been to university.
Towards the end of 2012, we teamed up with City Gateway, a social enterprise based in East London, which helps young people find and prepare for formal apprenticeship opportunities.
Our aim was to highlight the paucity of chances for non-graduates, show the world how much ability such young people could bring to the table, and ultimately encourage employers to open up new apprenticeship schemes that would be beneficial to all.
Every campaign the Standard has run in recent years has been something of a gamble; you simply never know how it will be received. But with our “Ladder for London” campaign, we set ourselves an ambitious target – to open up 1,000 new apprenticeships.
Getting “Ladder for London” off the ground was no easy feat. The strong partnership we developed with City Gateway (and subsequently with other apprentice providers based at Further Education colleges around London) was crucial to the success of the scheme.
Later, we also added blue-collar apprenticeships to the mix by linking up with Peabody Trust and a consortium of 20 builders in the construction sector.
And what success there was! The response from the public and the business sector was incredibly positive. The fact that so many youngsters got in touch, keen to find out more, demonstrated clearly that our campaign’s primary motivation was well founded.
As offers of new apprenticeships started to roll in, these young adults were matched to the available placements. We regularly kept the front page free to feature the wonderful stories generated by the initiative, keeping readers interested and engaged with our campaign.
More coverage also meant more employers wanting to come on board, which in turn meant more opportunities for young people, many of whom had struggled for years to find companies willing to give them a break.
Politicians lined up to praise our campaign, and HRH Prince Andrew agreed to become its patron. By the end of December 2013, more than 1,270 apprenticeships had been made available.
“Ladder for London” could not, of course, provide a complete solution to the problem of youth unemployment. But aside from providing real and lasting opportunities for individuals, it inspired a much wider political debate and raised the profile of apprenticeships.
And the idea has caught on, which is perhaps the most significant marker of its success. With luck, there will soon be a “Ladder for Leeds,” a “Ladder for Liverpool,” and myriad “Ladders” elsewhere.