· Features

Apprenticeships are key to saving generation COVID

There’s no question about it – when it comes to the job market, it’s young workers who are bearing the brunt of the economic decline. For those who have recently entered the workforce, or are poised to do so this year, it is an acutely uncertain time.

As the UK edges closer to a double-dip recession, the number of young people out of work is continuing to rise.

In the three months to November, people in the 25-34 age group had a redundancy rate of 16.2 per 1,000, a fivefold increase on the same period a year earlier.

These figures are particularly worrying when you consider the long-term impact unemployment has on the young people affected by it. There is frightening evidence of this from the 2008-09 recession.

Research by the Resolution Foundation found that those who entered the working world during the crisis took six years longer to recover their wages compared with their preceding cohorts. Crises end, but the damage to youth takes a long time to heal.

Thankfully, chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled new initiatives to support youth employment last year, the most significant being the Kickstart scheme. Of course, it’s encouraging to see the government putting money behind the rising issue of youth unemployment, but like much of the industry, I have my reservations.

As of 15 January, only 1,868 young people had begun their Kickstart placements. Granted, we are still in a national lockdown, but even if the scheme is to take off, I fear that it could go the same way as the Jobs Retention Fund, with employers using it as a form of unpaid labour, and people moving back into unemployment at the end.

This is something the UK cannot afford. For the sake of the economy, society, and for the young people themselves, it is paramount that investment is also put behind initiatives which are fruitful from start to finish and offer young people a structured way to learn new skills, gain qualifications and improved employment prospects.

This is where apprenticeships can provide a solution. These schemes have existed in the UK for centuries, but in recent years, have experienced a sharp decline. Even before the pandemic began, apprenticeships had fallen by almost 40 per cent in a decade.

This is a tremendous shame. Throughout my years as a HR professional, I’ve witnessed the plentiful benefits apprenticeship schemes can bring, especially in my current role at SharkNinja, where we offer stimulating apprenticeships in design engineering.

Employers benefit from skilled and loyal workers, young people get the career prospects they deserve, and the UK economy gains a new generation of skilled workers. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

With the number of apprenticeship opportunities declining, it’s clear the current system is in desperate need of reform.

So as Britain’s youth faces a crisis of skills and unemployment, now is the time for the government to rethink its current strategy, so we can all start reaping the myriad benefits apprenticeship schemes can sow.

The grants announced in the chancellor's Summer Statement were a pleasing measure to incentivise businesses to invest in apprentices in the interim – but they do not go far enough.

A proper apprenticeship costs an employer tens of thousands to fund, so grants of up to £3,000 don’t even scratch the surface.

No age group has gone untouched by COVID-19 and each will continue to feel the effects for many years to come. Yet I believe that for us to move forward, it is our youth which most need our support.

This falls on the government to invest more in apprenticeships, incentivise businesses and rewire the nation’s mindset towards these schemes, but it also falls on businesses, and on individuals too.

There are tough times ahead for young people, that nobody can deny. They have borne much of the cost of this pandemic already and will continue to do so for years to come. Now, we must focus on giving them long-term gains and satisfying careers as they face the years ahead – apprenticeships can be the key.

Jon Wright is VP of people and culture at SharkNinja



Further reading:

Government should scrap apprenticeship bonus to increase uptake

How can businesses make the most of apprenticeships?

Businesses have a key role to play in tackling the youth unemployment crisis