What we have discovered after several years of experience is that here is a really practical way of benefiting both those who work for you and those aspire to do so

Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be with you today in Harrogate.

Having looked at the agenda for the week, I rather wish I could have been here earlier - for it all looks most stimulating and valuable. But how you survive a week of this, I can't possibly imagine - especially with me as one of the final acts...

However, I was very keen to be here because in my view you, and indeed the whole Institute, are grappling with some of the most important issues of our day. They are important not only for the long-term success of your organisations and businesses, but also for the long-term health of our whole society.

We need an internationally competitive workforce, of course, but we also want to live in a country which gives all its inhabitants the opportunity to fulfil their potential, and to fulfil their civic obligations as good citizens. This is not easy as you, possibly more than anyone else, will know.

I cannot admit to having read very many management textbooks, but I do attempt to follow the debate. It was on Radio 4 that I succeeded in hearing the challenging thoughts of Charles Handy, a gold medal holder of your Institute. Amongst other things, he said: 'It may be more of an article of faith than a researchable fact, but we should make the starting assumption, in a just society, that everyone is intelligent in at least one way.'

I am convinced this is the case and I have tried to make my own small, practical contribution to turn this into a reality for the young.

I set up The Prince's Trust 20 years ago to help young people who, for a whole variety of reasons (including the influence of one or other fashionable theory of education) need additional support to play their role as fully active citizens. This has also given me first-hand experience of how organisations can work and grow. I am pleased to say that, like your Institute, we have just joined the ranks of Investors in People and so we, too, have lived with some of the basic issues which you all face every day.

But I think that the principal contribution which we have been able to make is in the understanding of how even the most alienated young people can flourish given the right sort of help and, above all, the right sort of motivation.

There are, as I am sure you know, about 600,000 young people under 25 without work - and probably without much hope either. This is a terrible waste and represents a huge loss of potential for the whole nation.

I have long believed that business has a major role to play in developing not only your own young people, but also some of those unlucky enough not to have a job or sufficiently alienated to have fallen into a rather frightening sub-culture. Believe it or not, you can make a real difference in dealing with this problem. Quite simply, it is just too big to be tackled without your help.

My involvement with Business in the Community for the last ten years has persuaded me that business can make a difference. Therefore we have tried since the very beginning to make employers a major partner in all that we do at The Prince's Trust. What we have been searching for are practical ways in which you can meet your objectives at the same time as we can meet our own. This principle runs through all our work whether it is helping young people to establish their own enterprises, providing training opportunities or supporting learning outside school.

But of particular relevance here today is the work of The Prince's Trust Volunteers, about which Geoff, Julie, Kevin and Landee have spoken so eloquently.

What we have discovered after several years of experience is that here is a really practical way of benefiting both those who work for you and those aspire to do so.

The secret is to create teams of young people, both employed and unemployed (and this is the unique part of the whole venture), who then learn together and overcome pre-conceived notions about the world around them. Tapping into the community as a learning resource not only benefits them, but brings tangible benefits to the whole community. Young people learn through being a member of a team and this helps to build their own self-esteem and confidence. Those without work acquire the motivation to find and keep a job, or continue with their education.

But the benefits are not just for the unemployed. This programme can help develop your people too. Managers tell us that they have seen significant improvements in the key skills of their employees. Our experience is that participation equips your employees to communicate more effectively, to be flexible, to care for others, to take responsibility and, perhaps above all else, to work in teams. And it is just these vital 'key skills' that many of you told Sir Ron Dearing you often find lacking in the young people you recruit. Incidentally, our experience is also that many such employees return to their companies so motivated that they either want to come back as team leaders - or run the company!

I believe that this link to key skills is the crucial additional benefit which we can offer to employers. From January 1997 we will offer NVQ accreditation in key skills, starting with 'working with others'. I am delighted that organisations such as NatWest and Marks & Spencer have said that they see this as helping them to meet their commitment to enable their staff to gain NVQs at work.

The great attraction, I feel, for you as employers is that this programme can benefit all your young people, whether they join you from school, college, university or the unemployment register, in whatever job they are now doing. Sending people to be trained in the community is not just a public relations exercise. It is a wonderful method of learning skills that people will use again and again throughout their career.

But there is another dimension. By bringing young people face to face with the community, with their peers and, above all, themselves, we are helping to create a more cohesive, tolerant and understanding society. It changes attitudes, and changes them for good. (Some of our ex-volunteers, for instance, have even told me they feel the whole exercise should be compulsory.)

If we could only achieve all this, and on a large enough scale, I believe that we could begin to transform the way our society functions.

This is why I was so delighted that the Prime Minister, and the Leaders of the Opposition Parties have agreed to support a major expansion of The Prince's Trust Volunteers. Our plan is to involve 25,000 young people each year by the beginning of the next Millennium. This 'Millennium crusade' as I like to think of it, can be done but it can't be done without all of you. And don't, for a moment, think that I underestimate the challenge, nor appreciate the many complicating pressures you face in such a competitive environment.

Our target is to offer places to 18,000 who are unemployed. There will be places for 7,000 in work and this year 1,000 employees are taking part. I would like you to make a special effort to help us make this 2,000 by the end of next year.

To take part, please talk to anyone from The Trust or break the habit of a lifetime and write to me direct at St James's Palace!

Ladies and gentlemen, please forgive me for the hard-selling approach, but I am determined to do what I can to help develop the potential of this country's young people. After all, we are in the same business. Only with a truly competitive workforce and genuinely cohesive communities are we likely to thrive in the next Millennium.

When I first started out on this particular venture (and it was 12 years ago that we began the first pilot scheme known as Community Venture) I was motivated by the fact that we were the only country in Europe which did not provide our young people with the opportunity to contribute something to their country at one point in their lives. And there is so much to contribute to; so much that needs doing; so many people who need helping; so much service that could be given. I want people in later life to tell, or show, their children, and maybe their grandchildren too, what they did for their country - and to be proud of it.