Coronavirus is a no win game, that goes without saying. One of the losing groups that worries me most is the young, particularly those finishing education this year and entering the world of work.
Not only are we seeing a significant rise in those that are out of work and claiming benefits, we are also seeing the number of job vacancies fall to the lowest level on record. At the same time, more and more employers are reducing their apprenticeship entry as the focus more on maintaining existing jobs. That’s a grim environment to come into the world of work, for even the most optimistic.
In response the TUC have drawn up proposals for a job guarantee scheme to support employers in creating roles for at least six months. Whilst it is a nice idea, there is something much simpler and closer to hand. The apprenticeship levy.
Employers have, for a number of years, repeatedly asked for the ability to allocate some or part of salaries against the levy in order to increase the number of apprenticeships they can offer. Governments have been reluctant to adopt this approach, for some understandable reasons, but if I’m honest, others that sound more like obfuscated fiscal management. At a time when we are facing into such significant issue, all previous rules should be put to one side.
A fixed term scheme that allowed a percentage of apprenticeship salaries to be allocated against the levy as long as it was used to create additional apprenticeship roles would have a number of key benefits:
- it is simple, easy and quick to deploy. The money is already with employers anyway, so it could be stood up by September
- it provides young people (and others) with an average of two years employment and training, building skills, obtaining qualifications and learning about the world of work
- it provides a future workforce, ready to deploy into the economy as things slowly start to improve and rebalance
- apprenticeships standards are monitored and approved, ensuring that the quality of education is maintained for all
- it is regionally agnostic, wherever there are employers with the ability to employ, there are opportunities for young people
- it creates jobs in the short term and puts money back into the economy through wages
I’m not suggesting that there aren’t issues that would need to be worked out, how we ensure that employers don’t play fast and loose with funding, how we make sure that the apprenticeships created are beneficial to the economy after recovery and of course how we make sure that the young people get the quality of experience that is beneficial to them in the long term.
But at a time when we are faced with challenges beyond our experience, we need ideas, schemes that bring creativity, ambition and hope. An employer driven recovery, focused on skills and qualifications for the young? It has to be worth a shot.