A very happy National Apprenticeship Week to all the unemployed youth out there. Yes, apprenticeships, those one to four year placements where you stand to earn a staggering £2.65/hour, appear to be the government's best attempt at tackling the backlog of young people desperately seeking that elusive first step on their career ladder.
Whilst I write in hope that these schemes will prove to be more than just a finger in the leaking dam, I remain unconvinced that our government has truly engaged with this issue and considered, in anything other than a blinkered manner, the 'best practice' approach to meeting youth unemployment head on. The stats speak for themselves: apprenticeships do not lead to permanent jobs and the skills they teach are limited. Furthermore, they exclude graduates: a major part of the one million unemployed young people, a part that has been roundly ignored by the government.
The belated shift to promoting these schemes is perhaps well intended, but frankly fails to consider the breadth of options available for the young and unemployed. As the Richard review of apprenticeships states explicitly, "it is wrong to think that the apprenticeship is the only effective form of vocational training".
The manner in which the government is seeking to introduce apprenticeships serves only to polarise the debate, ensuring that young people are either classified as 'apprenticeship' material, or are left to join the ranks of thousands of graduates competing for the grossly limited number of entry-level jobs. What is more, very often, even with the new political support being thrown at them, apprenticeships prove to be an inefficient method of getting people in to fulltime employment. By contrast, internships, free from government restrictions, provide a flexible way to help young people, both graduates and non-graduates alike break into the world of employment, with proven results.
Frankly, the failure of successive governments to come up with innovative solutions (or indeed embrace those being developed by companies driving these new recruitment models) to truly tackle youth unemployment in a holistic manner is one of the biggest blots on our national reputation. The sad truth is they would have only had to look across the waters to our European neighbours to see a better way of dealing with this issue. We stand light-years behind many of our continental friends, who against a backdrop of economic recession, have managed to reduce the number of young people out of work in their country.
Take for example Germany - a country I have written about before. Their employment model has for years been built on a foundation which prioritises work experience for everyone, placing a clear value on the skills gained in these placements and enabling young people to better bridge the gap between education and employment. Integrating work experience into the broader educational experience has worked wonders for them and (as pointed out previously) the facts really do speak for themselves: UK youth unemployment: 20%. Germany: 8.5% (and shrinking - consistently since 2005).
The reality is we continue to have a major youth unemployment problem in this country with an ever-more crowded entry-level job market. With almost a million young people in the UK unemployed, perhaps it is time the government started looking to our neighbours and innovating recruitment sector for tangible solutions to getting graduates into work. We should be recognising the value of proper work experience - not just throwing all our eggs into an apprenticeship basket that is yet to deliver tangible, long-term results.