Knowsley Chamber of Commerce chief executive Lesley Martin-Wright talks about how we all need to inspire the next generation and how she was inspired by US poet Amanda Gorman
How often, in a time when the extraordinary has become the everyday ordinary, does something have the capacity to completely take our breath away?
On January 20, Amanda Gorman stepped onto the podium at the inauguration ceremony for new US President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris. And for five minutes this 23-year-old poet shook the world.
Beginning her poem, The Hill We Climb, she asked… “When day comes we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”. It was powerful and awe-inspiring. She was truly a beacon of light in the darkest of times.
COVID-19 has impacted us all in a range of ways. Our young people have had their lives disrupted to the point where it may be years before we realise the full implications. Schools and colleges closed for long periods, real-life social networks fractured and in need of rebuilding.
Amanda Gorman was brought up by a single mother. She has an auditory processing disorder and is hypersensitive to noise. During childhood she had a speech impediment. She described herself as a “weird child” and her mother encouraged her keenness for reading and writing.
Her success illustrates with the correct nurturing and encouragement all young people can have a bright future. And we owe it to them to offer what that great Merseyside champion Lord Heseltine called the “ladders of opportunity”, to create an environment where they have genuine life choices.
Here in Knowsley we have thousands of talented resourceful young people who are determined to build a life for themselves. These gifted young people are now looking around and wondering what the future holds for them. The world has changed so much just in the past 12 months and they are asking ‘how do we get our first step on the ladder?’
We are probably now reaching a point where two years’ worth of exams simply won’t happen. For some young people they are also facing a number of social and economic barriers. And there are those who simply do not have the support network around them.
Businesses can help, but so many right now are under pressure just to keep themselves stable in what is an extremely difficult trading environment, many are reaching out to young people to forge what would be symbiotic relationships where both can benefit and prosper.
For some while now Knowsley Chamber has been working with two schools in the borough – All Saints in Kirkby and Halewood Academy. We have a ‘future leaders’ programme which has involved professional, successful women mentoring girls at the schools.
Plus a number of businesses have started working with pupils at All Saints, 12 months before the students are ready to leave school. That is all about demystifying the world of work and business and giving them a head start for the day when they walk out of the school gates for the final time.
We all have a responsibility to widen the options for young people in the borough. To create pathways and genuine opportunities. We need to make sure they are aware that there are some world class businesses right here on their doorstep.
We are also working with adult social care services and reaching out to young people who are emerging from the care system into the adult world for the first time. They don’t have the support of a family network and that can be a real struggle for them.
Many of those businesses are crying out for a skilled workforce and they need access to a talent pool. We need to set out what the skills priorities are. One of the barriers businesses and colleges face is in securing the funding to set up bespoke apprenticeship programmes. There are FE colleges who are keen to do more but are restrained by the current Government funding regimes.
We have been working with the Liverpool City Region Skills Brokers, which is a fantastic programme. It really delves into businesses to find out exactly what their skills requirements are and identifies sources of funding. On a further note, as part of the new Kickstart scheme, Knowsley Works is currently working with nearly 300 employers offering 493 job placements
12 months into the COVID-19 pandemic we are looking to assess where we are both in terms of businesses and people. We know that many businesses are struggling right now and we want to get the message out that by tapping into the amazing talent we have in Knowsley they can transform their businesses. In our town centres we are working on plans to create incubation spaces where local people can pursue avenues in the creative and digital sectors, one of the fastest-growing parts of the economy.
When we reach out to young people in Knowsley we cannot simply come in with a top-down approach. This is a two-way process. We have to listen to young people and offer them the space and the opportunities to make the key decisions about their own lives and career paths. Amanda Gorman showed us that you don’t always have to follow the norm to achieve in life.
And, now more than ever, we have a responsibility to offer the best possible outcomes for the young generation. It is critical that no one be left behind. We can heed Amanda’s words and we can find light in what sometimes feels like a never-ending shade.