How the levy could tackle youth unemployment

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.

You’ve got to have a plan

Many years ago I was sat talking to a cardiologist who asked me what my plan was. When I asked what she meant she replied, “Do you want to drop dead one day on the commute because you don’t know what else to do? You’ve got to have a plan.” It became one of those conversations that change your life.

Over a decade later I’ve always worked to a clear plan, I know where I am and where I want to go, but I understand that the path that I need to take might change and fluctuate as I progress. Of course not every detail can or will be known, but the broad sense of direction is clear.

In moments of temporary unhappiness (I’m generally an upbeat guy) I’ve been surprised at how often it is caused by losing sight of the overall journey. Becoming too focused on the here and now and losing sight of the why.

So my question to you is the same as the question that was asked of me those years ago, “what’s your plan and if you don’t have one, what’s stopping you?”.

 

To choose is to be free

“But I don’t have a choice”

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard this through my career, I’d be able to buy you all a round of drinks. It is a curious phrase and worth another look,

I don’t have a choice.

As I sit here writing this I”m struggling to think of situations where this is entirely true – hitting the ground when you’ve fallen off a building, growing old, chewing on a fruit pastille. The examples are few and far between.

In most cases people are either saying, “I can’t see the choices that I have” or, “I don’t like the repercussions of the choice that I have”. The implications of either stance is one of impotence. Simply put, when we refuse to see or accept the choices that we have, we deny the very essence of being. And in doing so, we diminish ourselves.

The nub of this human dilemma is often played out in a scenario where a house is on fire and you have the ability to save one of two much loved people. Who would you choose? Who would you save? Of course any choice in these circumstances is unpalatable, but as grotesque as it is, it is undeniably there.

Closer to home we can see it manifest in our organisations, where colleagues, employees and bosses will talk in tricky situations about, “not having a choice”. This is rarely, if ever, true. Or colleagues and friends who become stuck, lost in a self induced mental fug that leaves them static and inert.

In most circumstances where I see people unhappy, demotivated, depressed or disengaged, the root cause is their inability, or unwillingness to engage with the choices in front of them. This is overwhelmingly more common than people who are feeling the same way because of a decision or choice they have made.

As one of my favourite philosophers put it, “freedom is what you do with what’s been done you”. Given it is a Monday morning as we slide towards autumn, I’ll frame it a little more positively; happiness isn’t about the choices that you make in life, but the ability to see those choices exist.

Cards on the table, this means more

A number of years ago I was helping an organisation through a significant change, the sort that goes from top to bottom. The leadership team thought through and worried about all of the changes that we made, how they’d be received and how we explained them. In everything that we went through, from changes in structures, commercial terms and locations, the most emotive topic was a change to the structure of email addresses – it caught us out. That’s just the way it goes.

If you’re in HR in the UK, you’ll be aware of the most emotive debate since Marks and Spencer made Percy Pigs vegan friendly and in the process removed all joy from eating one. I’m talking about the CIPD’s change to the membership card.

Since I qualified nearly twenty five years ago, I’ve received a traditional membership card each year in return for my membership fee. This year, like everyone else, I received a badly typeset, plasticised piece of paper.

IMG_1274.jpg

(now you know my middle name and my membership number…no impersonations please!)

The reaction to the change has been typically HR, over emotional and intellectually stunted, with an artificial outcry and rage. And in a balanced response Membership Director David D’Souza wrote this post on the CIPD website, whilst others on the same side of the argument say, “it’s just a card!”.

Which is of course true, but misses the point.

The CIPD have shot themselves in the foot with a decision that is naive and ill-thought through, even if it is in it’s essence correct. It is only a card, but for many it represents their membership. I have several other memberships to organisations that send a similar card (The Ramblers Association for example), the difference is that I decide on an annual basis whether to continue with my subscription and I don’t have to pass an assessment process or exam in order to get it.

For many, I imagine, this is seen as a representation of the value proposition of their membership. Indeed the card itself came in a big yellow envelope with the word, “VALUED” in big capital letters, dreamt up by someone who once read a Ladybird book on marketing, to make sure that members understand – they’re valued. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what you say, it matters how you feel, and in the same way that the email address caused disproportionate debate, this change has also led to a different conversation.

If the CIPD wants people to commit to membership for life, then a flimsy, disposable card (that I’m told rips on removal) doesn’t represent the messages that they’d intend. If they want people to see the institute as the, “internationally recognised gold standard for HR and people development”, then this feels symbolic of saying one thing and acting in a different way.┬áIf there is an opportunity for the institute to draw heart, it is that people clearly felt proud of receiving their previous card, even if they weren’t quick to declare it.

The environmental arguments that are put forward for the change don’t wash with me, I’m afraid. There are membership models out there that issue one card on joining and then only change it on upgrading or loss. With a bit of creativity, they could have launched a couple of different permanent cards each associated with a different management or workplace thinker for example. If you genuinely expect members to stay with you for life, then one card over a thirty or forty year career would be much more environmentally friendly than a plasticised paper one each year.

Let’s be clear, I don’t care about the card either way, reading about the debate made me go and find the lurid yellow envelope in a pile of catalogues and junk mail that I’d put to one side. What worries me more is that this seems to be the latest piece of evidence of the CIPD losing sight of the value proposition for their core membership. There are many organisations that have forgotten their core customer base as they’ve become distracted by peripheral activities and chasing revenue. Let’s hope the sensible and grounded voices at the institute can use this example as a warning sign to remind others of the risk of this happening to them.