This week is National Apprenticeship Week, and it's likely that debates will be flying around about whether every young person should be made to do one to help tackle the chronic youth unemployment issue crippling a generation right now. In my view the answer to that is no - apprenticeships don't suit everyone so making them compulsory would only work for a proportion of the participants. But they should be given more importance amongst employers, as I believe they are the solution to many a young person's perils.
I was interested to learn that Raymond Blanc, the two star Michelin chef, has taken on 21 teenage apprentices to work at his Brasserie Blanc restaurants, both in London and across the UK. Together with London Mayor Boris Johnson, who let's be fair loves to jump on a good news youth story, they've issued a 'rallying call to the food and hospitality sector' to take on more young apprentices. Riding the good news wave or not, this is the right thing for Boris to be calling for, as Raymond has pledged that his apprentices will be assigned to a mentor as they are supported through training in both chef and front of house roles.
And here lies the key difference between giving these teenagers an apprenticeship over getting them in solely to wash pots. Mentoring, support, and training. The latter part of your teenage years are open to any number of derailments, and if you're leaving school with few qualifications and no desire or ability to continue with formal education, where do you go? The ridiculously high turnover of staff in many high street retail stores shows that big employers often want to fix the short-term problem of staff rosters with a short-term solution of employing unskilled labour at cheap rates. If I was 16 and going in to a job with minimal training, knowing that the sole objective of my being there was to keep the business ticking over until closing time that day, I know my motivation of doing well for both me and the company would be minimal. You'll still have to wash pots as an apprentice, but if you feel like you're doing that as part of something bigger and better for you long term, you're more likely to get scrubbing and get on with it.
I didn't do an apprenticeship, but I did a close second, which was a trainee scheme offered by my first employer. Six months of constant mentoring and moving around different roles, learning how things ticked and why my efforts made a difference to both me, my colleagues and the company. What did it give me? A genuine understanding of and appetite for the work place.
I have worked in companies of all different sizes since then, and have sadly seen some genuinely horrific ways in which first jobbers are treated. I am all of the belief of starting at the bottom and working your way up, but this is a massive difference to starting at the bottom and being kept there for the company's budgetary and HR reasons. No matter what your company's size, I know it is in most firm's realms of possibility to offer training and mentoring along side entry level employment, and whether it's billed as a London Mayor backed apprenticeship or not, I believe this would lead to lower staff turn overs, higher fulfillment for employees, and better prospects for teenagers entering the bottom rung of employment. The stats back me up on this too: 85% of apprentices stay in employment after finishing their apprenticeship, with 64% staying with the same employer.
Most young people are hungry for work. They're not shirking from an opportunity, they're searching for it. So I genuinely hope schemes like Messieurs Blanc's give them the opportunity they're in need of.