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A Compulsory Living Wage Will Mean More Young People Miss a Vital First Shot

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Of course all businesses should value hard working talent, but the introduction of a compulsory Living Wage could hinder more young people than it helps.

Nearly a million young Britons are shopping for entry-level employment. They want a chance to prove their worth. They want to profit from experience, bulk up their CVs and showcase their talents, but making employers pay higher wages is likely to mean more young people lose a vital first shot.

This week is Living Wage week, a fantastic initiative to encourage businesses to voluntarily pay the Living Wage; that is £7.45 an hour and £8.55 in London. By promoting the cause Ed Miliband and Boris Johnson are highlighting an important problem that affects 4.28 million people. Organisations should try their best to pay prized employees enough to cover the bare essentials, and this should be the minimum standard. But any shift towards compulsorily higher wages will force a trade-off between jobs and pay. And young people will be the ones who miss out.

Our youth inject zest and energy into the workplace, they fizz with ideas and have the power to give businesses a new lease of life. But they require employers to give them the tools to progress and forge a clear route up.

It should be easy for businesses to make this investment and put young people on the books, but to do this we need to make the 957,000 young unemployed look like less of a risk. This is especially true for the 18-24 year olds who have been out of work for more than two years; the number has doubled since 2008. They are written off by employers, their potential ignored and are left stranded.

The most practical way to give them the skills and opportunities they need is through apprenticeships. The minimum pay for an apprentice is £2.65 per hour, which is well within most employers budgets. Last year 200,000 people in England achieved apprenticeships and, encouragingly, over 80% of 19-24 year olds went on to full employment. These low paid but high investment schemes are working and have done since the Guilds of the Middle Ages.

Apprenticeships plug the gap and give young people lacking workplace skills a ladder to climb. In her seminal report the expert Alison Wolf identified apprenticeships as "a key route into skilled employment and higher returns in terms of career progression and future earnings." The bright young employee can absorb their surroundings, learn from superiors and grow with the organisation. On average apprentices earn over £100,000 more throughout their lifetime than other employees. Ultimately these schemes give more people, more opportunities.

Being in work makes you happy. It is the best way out of poverty and towards money and status, bolsters self-esteem, gives a sense of purpose and identity for workers and their families; parental unemployment carries a two to three fold increased rate of emotional or behavioural disorder in children.

As such, people should be empowered to take the jobs offered to them. By bringing down the spiralling costs of living and taking decisive action on food, fuel and housing costs the government could go a long way to help us all. They should champion free travel and put pressure on companies to give the young unemployed a hand with free fares. For instance, earlier this year a collective of bus companies announced plans to discount travel for NEETs.

By making it cheaper to get by, creating more opportunities and kick starting economic growth the government will provide a sustainable way to move young people into work.

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