Skill Up Step Up: Dragon’s Den star says youth unemployment in London ‘shocking’ as he backs campaign

Dragon’s Den star Steven Bartlett has backed our campaign to upskill jobless youth and get them into work, calling our appeal “important” for young people who have had a difficult few years navigating the pandemic while finishing school.

His support comes as London’s employers responded enthusiastically to our £1m Skill Up Step Up initiative in partnership with Barclays LifeSkills with more than 200 pledges of jobs for unemployed youths skilled up by our campaign.

Companies stepping up cover a wide range of sectors and include building contractors, house movers, paint manufacturers, a theater booking agency, hotel groups, restaurant groups and hospitality companies.

Ronan Harte, chief executive officer for independent caterer BaxterStorey, who pledged three jobs, said they were “proud to be part of the Skill Up Step Up scheme to offer job opportunities to those looking to get back into work” and that “investing in recruitment it is essential to address the skills gap and build back faster and stronger”.

Mr Bartlett, 29, said the current state of youth unemployment in London – with one in five 16- to 25-year-olds seeking work are jobless – is “shocking but not surprising”.

He urged business leaders to do more to open doors for candidates from non-traditional backgrounds through initiatives such as ours, which “help build confidence for young people”.

Born to a Nigerian mum and a British dad, Mr Bartlett knows from personal experience how to turn rejection to his advantage.

Since being spurned by Dragon’s Den as a contestant over a decade ago, he went on to start his own company from his bedroom, becoming a millionaire by age 23 with his marketing agency, Social Chain, now valued at over £450m.

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He went on to break records as the youngest ever Dragon on the iconic BBC show – and hosted his own hit podcast Diary of a CEO.

Before then, he had faced rejection as a schoolboy.

“I didn’t have much growing up in Plymouth, but I knew I wanted to be involved in business,” he said.

Despite shoddy school attendance, he already showed business acumen, organizing events and trips for his school as well as negotiating deals with vending machine companies and taking a cut.

However, his career ambitions weren’t met with support from his school – who kicked him out when he was 17.

“I wasn’t encouraged in school to pursue any sort of career in business or to show me what options complimented my strengths,” he said. “Instead, they expelled me.”

The hurdles continued to mount after Bartlett dropped out of Manchester Metropolitan University after just one lecture on his business management course, which he believed wouldn’t take him where he wanted to go. He used these setbacks as motivation and went on to found Social Chain when he was just 18 years old.

He added that although London has incredible opportunities, the competition is fierce and young people need to be prepared with the right skills.

He hailed our partnership with the likes of charity City Gateway, providing young people with employability training and digital skills, as vital.

“I think the campaign offering is incredible and I would love to see more businesses step up. This campaign outlines exactly what the education system is missing and is a great way to open doors for the younger and under-represented generation.”

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Our campaign in a nutshell

What are we doing? We have launched Skill Up Step Up, a £1m initiative in partnership with Barclays LifeSkills to upskill unemployed and disadvantaged young Londoners so they can be “work ready” and step up into sustainable jobs or apprenticeships.

Why are we doing this? Youth unemployment in London has soared by 55 per cent to 105,000 since the start of the pandemic, meaning that 21 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds are jobless at a time of record job vacancies of 1.17 million countrywide. This mismatch, caused largely by an employability skills and experience gap, is leading to wasted lives and billions of pounds of lost productivity for our economy.

How will it work? The £1m from Barclays will provide grant funding over two years for up to five outstanding, handpicked charities that provide disadvantaged jobless young Londoners with employability skills and wrap-around care to get them into the labor market and transform their lives. The charity partners we have announced so far are:

one. Springboard: they will support young people with jobs in the hospitality industry (hotels, restaurants, bars, leisure and tourism) via a three- to six-week program that includes one-to-one mentoring, soft skills and employability development (confidence, work attitude, CV building, interview practice and time management), practical industry and hard skills training, including food safety and customer service, as well as access to work experience placements.

two. City Gateway: they will get young people work-ready with a 12-week employability programme, including digital skills, a work placement, CV and interview skills and a dedicated one-to-one coach, extending to up to 20 weeks if they need English and/or maths qualifications, enabling them to gain entry-level positions including apprenticeships in a wide range of sectors, including finance, digital media, marketing, retail, property and IT.

More partner charities will be announced in due course.

How can the young and jobless skill up? If you are aged 16-24 and want to upskill towards a job in hospitality, contact Springboard here.

If you want to upskill towards a job in any other sector, contact City Gateway here.

For tools, tips and learning resources visit

How can employers step up? We want companies – large, medium and small – to pledge to employ one or more trainees in a job or apprenticeship. They could work in your IT, customer service, human resources, marketing or sales departments, or any department with entry-level positions. You will be provided with a shortlist of suitable candidates for interview. To get the ball rolling, contact the London Community Foundation, who are managing the process on: [email protected]

How can readers help? The more money we raise, the more young people we can skill up. To donate, click here

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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