Will King: Britain has a tsunami of talent, let’s open the floodgates!

Will King, founder, King of Shaves on why the UK needs to nurture talent and why he’s judging the London Loves Talent Awards

I’m delighted to be one of the judges on the panel of the inaugural LondonlovesTalent Awards later this year. For without talent what will be the future of not just London, but the UK overall? But what does it mean to be talented?

Look around you, the talented are everywhere, of course – on TV – in The X Factor or The Voice (good old-fashioned talent shows, which sieves the wannabes from the ‘real deal’ - or in some people’s opinions, maybe not!)

Then there are the 16-year-old tech entrepreneurs, who dream up an idea for a world-changing app in their bedroom and sell to tech giants for more money than they can dream of - the Nick D’Aloisios of this world. Or there are people who’ve been employed in the same old humdrum job, who’ve then been made redundant in the recent six-year economic downturn, and found themselves having to ‘create a job, not take a job’. Next step for them? Enter the burgeoning ranks of the self-employed, moving from “Wantrepreneur to Entrepreneur”.  These talented people, who, have in some cases, never physically displayed their talent are the future of the UK.

But there’s a problem. The old saying: “Oh, he (or she) is so talented, but is lazy…”  For people to display talent, to put it to use, to externalise it, to make it work takes four words. Relentlessness, persistence and hard work.

And right now, there are a lot of talented people chasing all too few positions or careers where they can display their talent. Since 2007, when the world went into a commercial and confidence meltdown, companies - the natural channelers of talent - have held back on their recruitment drives, or more importantly, ‘progression through the levels’ towards the top. They’ve had to ‘lean down’ and cut their cost bases which means reducing the number of training courses, development projects and future opportunities. Why? Because they’ve simply tried to survive, rather than thrive. So, we have a talent tsunami which has been held back by a dam wall of economic repression, and as that dam wall crumbles (as the economy recovers, it will) they will all be swimming towards the same opportunities, and sadly, there won’t (yet) be enough of them.

Friends of mine who live on the Isle of Wight have a son who’s just graduated from University. On leaving, he applied for many jobs in his sector only to hit a brick wall. He’s a proud young individual who wants to work for his living, get off mum & dad’s payroll, and look at paying back his student debt. So he applies for a job as a coffee barista in Cowes. Problem is, so do 100 others hoping to display their talents (of the barista type, not necessarily engineering or civil engineering or Economics). So, amazingly, the coffee shop hosted an ‘aptitude day’ where the ‘contestants’ are pitted against not just each other, but something probably designed to get the best out of demotivated middle management. He doesn’t come out top, feels deflated, his confidence drains away, and he’s back at home.

And of course, this story is repeated tens of thousands of times each day, week and month.

What to do?  Well, for sure – Awards recognising talent, not just in individuals, but in employers, organisations, facilitators is important. But, what’s equally as critical is ensuring that these talented people, who aren’t lazy, who want to work hard know what options are open to them. I was made redundant 20 years ago, prior to founding King of Shaves, and have been lucky enough (as my business has grown) to meet many amazing talented people, not just from business but from other walks of life, who opened my eyes to what exists. If you know what ‘Indiegogo’ or ‘Kickstarter’ or ‘Crowdcube’ and #AltFunding is, for example, you might be able to set up your own business. Or if you spend some time looking at the various organisations out there that exist to help start-ups, small businesses or people ‘looking to showcase their talent’, you might come across initiatives such as ‘The Pitch’ or apply to be in the Smarta 100. But, you need to know what to search for, where to look and how to get your talented toe in the door.

Any initiative that brings knowledge to the talented, I’m a fan of.  Hence I’m judging the LondonlovesTalent Awards but there needs to be a multi-channel, multi-stranded (government-backed & focussed) strategy to get the talented the knowledge they need.

Talent (like cream) rises to the top. Let’s do our utmost to help it, showcase it and nurture and develop it. For like our kids, our talent is the future.

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