THE BLOG

Today's Apprenticeships Not Working For Disaffected Youth

03/04/2013 15:04 BST | Updated 03/06/2013 10:12 BST

Although Alan Sugar and the BBC may be thinking twice about it, the Government is committed to saying 'you're hired' to thousands more apprentices. Apprenticeships are seen as a vital part of the economic recovery - so much so that we now have a week dedicated to celebrating them. In case you were unaware, that week took place between the 11-15th of March.

The tone of the week's announcements responded to the conclusions of a major review of the system undertaken over the last year. This concluded that apprenticeships need to be bigger and better, worn as a badge of honour and positioned as the preferred route to achieving aspirational career goals.

This has worked well in other countries but the increasing focus on the strivers and high achievers has a downside as it puts apprenticeships out of reach for many young people.

Although there are glimmers of hope on the horizon with headline unemployment statistics moving in the right direction, the number of young people out of education or work - many of them for more than a year - remains stubbornly high. There are many causes.

Some of the jobs that young people used to do in traditional industries just don't exist any more while a deep recession means that older and more skilled people are willing to 'trade down' in terms of salary and responsibility. With reports suggesting there are 25 people chasing every job in the labour market, raising the entry bar to apprenticeships won't help some young people solve the 'no job without experience, no experience without a job' conundrum. We may be developing the brightest and best at one end of the spectrum but we're still risking a lost generation at the other.

This has not gone unnoticed and work is underway behind the scenes to develop the concept of 'traineeships' or 'pre-apprenticeships'. This new opportunity would bring together academic support (particularly in core subjects like maths and English), vocational training and work experience with the stated aim of addressing the concerns voiced by many employers that young people coming for interviews just aren't prepared for life in the workplace.

Although the pull your socks up brigade may question the use of taxpayer money to provide lessons in 'how to get up in the morning', it's a fact that in families where unemployment has affected successive generations, norms, expectations and aspirations have changed. Stories about young people being afraid to set their alarm clock for fear of the consequences of waking their parents are not uncommon.

But of course improving the supply side of labour is only half the equation. What are we doing about the demand side of job creation? There may be glimmers on the horizon but is the fire likely to catch quickly enough to prevent a whole generation of young people missing out on the chance to put their undoubted talents to good use?

Apprenticeships, traineeships and every other similar scheme are being re-oriented by the current government to be 'employer-led'. The theory goes that businesses know their markets, know what skills they need and are best placed to decide how those skills are met. The theory is undoubtedly a good one but it misses a vital component. Not everything that society needs can be met by the market.

Groundwork UK is particularly focused on developing skills and jobs to help us address the big environmental challenges - and opportunities - ahead of us. As fuel and food bills rise we need to change the way in which the economy works - conserving energy, producing more local produce, shortening global supply chains etc. This has the potential to create thousands of jobs - many of them suitable for trainees and apprentices and as needed in Burnley and Bradford as they are in Bath and Basingstoke.

We can't solve the challenge of youth unemployment by purely focusing on the skills and jobs that are needed now. We need to take a long-term view of what our local economies need to be like in the future and invest to make that happen.