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Complexity deterring firms from engaging with youth employment policies

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High levels of complexity are putting large employers off engaging with youth employment policy initiatives, according to a research project by the University of Leicester and Open University Business School.

The project – Employers, Young People and Pathways into Work – is exploring youth employment, in particular youth labour precarity, transitions into the labour market and employer perspectives. University of Leicester professor Melanie Simms presented some of the early findings at an event on age diversity, run by HR Most Influential partner Open University Business School.

Simms said that while many large employers are engaged with the issue of youth employment it is often through their own internal schemes, rather than by using official government schemes like apprenticeship programmes or traineeships.

She cited 2012 statistics that showed although employer awareness of such schemes is high (more than 90%), much fewer employers have actually taken on an apprentice (10% in 2012). “Awareness is high so why are employers choosing not to [offer such schemes]?” she asked.

Complexity is partly to blame, she suggested. “Even large and engaged employers struggle to understand constantly changing rules and moving goalposts,” Simms said. For example, she explained, a successful programme can suddenly have to change due to funding rules altering.

She also raised issues with training providers. “There are difficulties finding large-scale, national training providers,” she said, adding that providers were also “highly variable in quality”.

Other challenges putting off large employers engaging with youth employment policy initiatives include problematic incentives (incentives are too focused on the company rather than the decision maker – the manager), perceived hassle and reputation risk. “There’s a risk you might be seen to be delivering a poor quality apprenticeship, and/or of being named and shamed by Ofsted,” said Simms.

Simms’ research, carried out with Open University Business School professor of organisation studies David Wilson, is based on the experiences of 12 large employers in a variety of sectors.