Three months on from the summer riots and the shocking scenes of hoodies stealing plasma TVs and thrashing their neighbourhoods may almost be forgotten. But with the grim reality of over 2.5 million people out of work in the country, 16-25 year olds accounting for almost a million, who's to say these scenes won't rear their ugly head again?
A breakdown of the disturbances shows one in three adults involved was claiming unemployment benefits. Whilst joblessness and poverty is no excuse whatsoever for mindless violence, ministers must do more to tackle the rising unemployment rate.
Mayor Boris is doing a sterling job with his apprenticeship drive, having already secured over 40,000 new apprenticeships for Londoners in just over a year, and now upping his target to 100,000 by the end of 2012.
But let's go further. Let's start earlier in a young person's life. Here's an idea, let's make apprenticeships, practical apprenticeships, compulsory for all 14- and 15-year-olds who go to comprehensive school. Now of course, it would be lovely to make the placements compulsory for every school kid in the country, but a limited number of companies and resources sadly mean this just isn't possible. Faced with this reality, let's be sensible and offer the training to those in society who most need it - and let's not even stop there - let's go another step further and prioritise children who are under-performing.
In a targeted approach, the onus would be on the school to identify under-performing children and work closely together with them, their parents and companies, to find suitable practical training. Let's ensure every child benefits and those at the bottom of the rung aren't overlooked.
By the way, I'm not junking comprehensive schools at all, in fact I'm a great believer in them, but the truth is children in state schools will benefit from practical work placements much more than private or grammar school kids. As one head teacher in a Greater London Grammar school frankly told me, "Our view could be summed up very easily: compulsory work apprenticeships would not be something we were interested in. The vast majority of our pupils go on to university; hardly any at all go straight to work."
So it could work something like this. All kids in state education would have to complete a minimum of four, 25-hour, weeks of work based training before their 16th birthday. They could choose an industry of their choice be it hospitality, IT or construction, and work with carpenters, chefs or nurses. Timings could be flexible; kids could have the option of completing the entire placement in one summer period or spreading it out during various holidays over two years, dependent upon circumstances at home, personal commitments and business needs. And the company could pay them a minimal wage; say £50 for a 25-hour week of work. This would be a pretty good deal for the company, while children would be given the responsibility of managing money and budgeting, the first time for many.
Think of the heaps of benefits for children, business and wider society. While of course kids won't come away from these apprenticeships as fully qualified plumbers, carpenters or chefs, it would prepare them to enter the world of work. They would be introduced to discipline, a work ethic, timekeeping, organisation and life experience, while keeping them out of trouble at the same time. On top of all that hopefully they'd get a taster of real, practical skills. And they might really enjoy it.
Work apprenticeships for our school children are a fine example of Prime Minister Cameron's Big Society vision. Everybody knows business isn't going to profit from labour on the cheap in just four measly weeks, although employers could have the option of keeping kids on past their apprenticeship for a real wage, or take them on again in future school holidays. But this is about something bigger. Business contributing to society by acting as a role model for children. It's about local companies helping to shape the future of the next generation, in partnership with schools and parents. They can do this by spotting and moulding talent, and by giving kids direction, inspiration and work based skills to supplement their education. Let's not go as far as to say it's their duty, but certainly a social responsibility.