James Uffindell

The Summer Statement included a much-needed focus on supporting the next generation to enter the workforce. It is clear that the downturn will be felt most acutely by young people and to its credit, the Government has recognised that the so-called ‘Corona Class of 2020’ needs all the help it can get on the road to economic recovery. 

Boosting the capacity of Job Centres and the National Careers Service, and £111m to subsidise traineeships had been trailed by the Treasury early this week, but the rabbit in the hat was the £2bn ‘Kickstart Scheme’ to subsidise six-month work placements for 16-24-year olds “at risk of long-term unemployment”.

This was welcomed by business and union leaders as a good first step, although many argue it doesn’t go far enough. The measures unveiled by the Government may be necessary but are by no means sufficient to boosting youth employment and solving the skills crisis we face as a country.

Some wryly observe that the Treasury is ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’, but the shortcomings of the ‘Plan for Jobs’ are worth consideration ahead of what is promised to be a more comprehensive Autumn Budget.

Mr Sunak’s commitments specifically target the UK’s most vulnerable young people – those that are not highly-skilled, not in education or training (NEET), and those that are claiming universal credit.

The need to support underprivileged and disadvantaged young people cannot be downplayed – social mobility and equality of opportunity have long needed attention in the UK. Better funding for careers advice and expanding the traineeship programme are good ideas that many have been spent years campaigning for. As a result, the Chancellor’s policies for young people feel welcome but overdue, rather than new and creative responses to the current crisis.

To use traineeships as an example; before the pandemic, 75 percent of traineeship participants went into an apprenticeship, a full-time job or further study within a year. However, it would be naive to think that the scheme’s success in a growing economy will be replicated under such different economic conditions.

Like the promised Kickstart Scheme placements, traineeships are not applicable to the vast majority of young people seeking jobs, including university graduates, school leavers and most of those recently made redundant. There are 800,000 people who will leave full time employment this year and they all face the toughest job market for generations. We must work to create opportunities for the entirety of this group. 

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The input of our leading employers and educational institutions was missing from the announcements we have seen to date and yet, as the organisations that are doing the frontline work, their support will be vital if we are to boost youth employment in the months and years to come. To protect the next generation from mass unemployment, the most valuable thing the Government can do before the Autumn Budget is engage them in the decision-making process. 

The careers platform I founded, Bright Network, recently conducted some research that revealed the increased stress that university students are under. As many as 83 percent feel greater pressure as a result of the pandemic and they have legitimate concerns about the current job market. The majority are not confident about securing employment and the Summer Statement is unlikely to have allayed their fears.

Bright Network has worked with over 80 partners to develop the UK’s largest virtual careers experience in response to coronavirus concerns; Internship Experience UK. Developed in the space of a few weeks, it created a truly national coalition of employers, universities and trade bodies and it will have provided online work placements and employability training for close to 100,000 people by the end of the month, with 1M hours of online learning delivered

Many of the UK’s biggest businesses have made difficult decisions and face tough times ahead – but from shifting production to hand sanitiser or manufacturing ventilators to supporting initiatives like Internship Experience UK, they have proved willing and able to innovate. At the same time, schools and universities have transitioned to online learning and increased support for young people in a way that many would have thought impossible.

The jobs we are asking businesses to create need to be both valuable to the employers and appealing to young people in the long term or they risk acting as a stopgap. To avoid problems for our growth and productivity in the future we need to harness the resources and inspire the enthusiasm of both business and education.

If bright, talented young people are not helped to find and make the most of meaningful opportunities, we are only kicking the issue into the long grass.

James Uffindell, CEO & Founder of Bright Network – the technology platform connecting ambitious young people from all backgrounds with the best career opportunities.

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