· News

Chancellor’s extended job support will need consistency to succeed

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference yesterday (4 October), chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a further £500 million to help alleviate the jobs and skills crisis. While extended job support has been welcomed, there are concerns it doesn’t go far enough.

The extended plan for jobs will see the Kickstart scheme extended into 2022, providing subsidised jobs for those aged 16-24 on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment.

Thames Water has been one of the beneficiaries of the scheme. It initially took on 50 placements and is now planning to double its intake to 100.

Post-COVID support:

How to apply for the government’s Kickstart Scheme

How to make the right choice between traineeships, apprenticeships or the kickstart scheme

Over 45s need more HR support to navigate reskilling

Speaking to HR magazine Karima Khandker, head of skills and emerging talent at Thames Water, said: "It's wonderful to be able to give young people this springboard into the working world where they will earn a decent wage and learn lifelong skills

“It's important because we want to make a positive impact on society and play our part in educating and inspiring future generations.”

For other prospective employers though, an administrative backlog in processing the applications is reportedly holding them back.

Emily Alexander, chief happiness officer at wellbeing consultancy The Joy Dept. has worked with a gateway provider that helps employers access the scheme.

Speaking to HR magazine, Alexander said: “Having worked with a gateway over the last year, it has become very clear that the administration of the scheme is not up to scratch.

“We have faced delays, numerous ‘lost’ cohorts and lack of communication to name a few issues, and our employers are not happy.”

One of the biggest issues with Kickstart, Alexander said, is the "postcode lottery" of how applications are processed.

“There is a lack of consistency across the country with a postcode lottery on who gets approved or whose jobs are filled fastest,” she said.

“We welcome the extension with open arms but call for the process to be properly implemented and for Job Centre staff to be trained and held accountable.”

Tracy Fishwick is managing director at kickstart gateway provider Transform Lives Company.

She suggested that employers’ understanding of the scheme could also be part of the problem.

“I think a lot of employers don’t really understand what Kickstart is or how much employability support they should be offering, employers need to simplify their normal recruitment practices, or work better still with an experienced gateway to accelerate the process of taking young people on,” Fishwick told HR magazine.

“What we really need are employers who want to give someone a chance, who they wouldn’t usually hire, on the basis that six months experience will set them up for life.”

Similarly, Ruth Cornish, founder and director of Amelore, said the scheme doesn’t go far enough.

She told HR magazine: “Many employers are unaware of it, particularly SMEs without HR support.

“Likewise we know that the over-50s have been really impacted by the ending of the furlough scheme. This group need access to more support to enable them to benefit from gaining digital skills that will help them find employment.

“They may not be claiming state benefits but need help to get them back into work.”

Though hinting at higher wages, the chancellor did not announce any further increase to the National Minimum Wage.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) warned that the announcement was therefore not a “serious plan” for improving workers’ rights.

“Britain needs a pay rise. But what we heard today is not a serious plan for raising living standards,” said TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady.

“If the chancellor wants to get wages rising, he shouldn’t be freezing the pay of millions of key workers.”

Fair-pay bargaining and a rise in the National Minimum Wage would be welcome, added O’Grady, in addition to a ban on zero-hours contracts.

In its statement on the speech, the CIPD backed some of the statements made by the TUC and reiterated its call to reform the apprenticeship levy and increase investment for lifelong learning.

A CIPD spokesperson said: “The chancellor’s speech left a large question mark over how the government plans to help the UK transition to a high-wage, high skill economy and reduce the need for immigration to address rising skill and labour shortages.

“There is a real need to build on the Plan for Growth to develop a long-term strategy that goes beyond limited small-scale interventions to one that seeks to enhance the business environment and supports business productivity improvement at a regional, sectoral and national level.”


More reactions to Rishi Sunak's speech:

Graham Griffiths, interim director, Living Wage Foundation

“It is encouraging to hear that part of the Chancellor’s vision for the future includes higher wages and better skills for workers across the country. In order to level up throughout the UK, these higher wages should accurately reflect the ever-changing spending needs of workers today, such as rising fuel and energy costs.

“However, while the government lays out its vision of our economic future, those businesses that seek to support their staff with their changing needs can act now. By accrediting as a Living Wage Employer, businesses will not only boost their own resilience through greater team productivity and morale, but also support those who have been the backbone to their survival and success.”


Helen Barnard, deputy director, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

"The chancellor may say he has a plan for jobs but he has no plan for paying the bills. He spoke of doing whatever it takes to protect people’s livelihoods, yet he is cutting the incomes of around 5.5 million families by £1,040 a year on Wednesday when we are facing a cost of living crisis. 

"It is completely wrong to suggest there is a trade-off between good jobs and adequate social security when they are both essential to improving people’s living standards."


On the extension of Kickstart and Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS): 

Alan Price, chief operating officer, Peninsula

“These schemes target the individual. The benefit to the workplace is going to be felt in getting or growing the skills and expertise of a new employee, and the financial incentive for the apprenticeship of course will help.

“The complexity of navigating this support, and making sure everything is correctly in place, will be an additional burden to employers who may not have previously accessed schemes of this nature."


Neil Carberry, CEO, Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) 

"It is good news that the government are going to extend some of the pandemic support schemes including JETS – this kind of targeted support is much needed for people who have been out of work for some time, and recruiters are playing their part in the scheme.

"However, the Kickstart scheme has only helped a limited number of people so far, and even with the extension it will still expire in early 2022. Government need to be thinking further ahead than that and working in collaboration with industry experts in a joint forum to solve labour market issues in both the short and longer term."


Karen Watkins, founder, Rowan Consulting

"In theory, the Kickstart scheme works, and we have seen some initial successes from our clients' experiences. In practice, it simply doesn't address the long-term issue of unemployment nor the focus on where those skills are needed.

"It's creating short-termism in the market, which is not good for business or the younger generation. I fear we will simply limp from one ill-thought through scheme to another."