At this month’s Labour Conference, Young Fabian Victoria Desmond presented in front of a ‘Dragon’s Den’ of panellists her ideas for alleviating youth unemployment. In this article, she explains how restructuring apprenticeships may hold the key.
Apprenticeships have the potential to transform lives, and bring a whole generation of eager young people into the workforce. However, the current system is not fit for purpose, so I came to the Young Fabians with a comprehensive plan of how to reform it for the better.
The way that I sought to do this was to conduct an interview with a director of Tru-Cal Metrology Ltd- a calibration firm that specialises in precision engineering.
Together we came up with the following policy suggestion:
Firstly, we looked at the public private partnerships around which apprenticeships are currently organised. The current system is flawed and we therefore need to analyse how we can make these more effective. They need to be modelled around a bargain between the state and small businesses or in partnership with the proposed ‘British Investment Bank’ so that apprenticeships can be adequately funded.
These fully funded programmes could then provide vocational qualifications alongside practical work place experience that is paid by the employer and subsidised to reach the basic level of the living wage- not the minimum wage.
Secondly, these apprenticeships must be focused in three specific sectors:
A) The manufacturing industry,
B) research and development and
C) green industries
We also recommended that a fourth apprenticeship scheme should be modelled to target secretarial work. This particular programme would focus on giving people the skills needed to efficiently work and run an office, use office technology such as telephones and fax machines, and equip people with basic skills such as typing. Practical skills like these are already taught in bespoke secretarial colleges. Now it’s time to roll out the opportunities offered here to jobless young people.
Our third proposal is that the government offers a national insurance employer contribution holiday. We recommend employer contributions are either cut in half or eliminated completely for each employee aged under 25 for a limited period of time.
Ideally, we feel that this scheme should be in place for one year. However, this may be financially unsustainable, and therefore we reckon that for the policy to be effective and economically viable, a period of 6 months should be set as the limit. Funding for this national insurance employer contribution could be found from one of the following:
A) a wealth tax,
B) financial transactions tax or
C) a tax on bankers’ bonuses.
We would say that the fairest way to fund this scheme would be via the financial sector, as a gesture of reconciliation for the damage that they have inflicted on the prospective future of my generation.
I gathered from my interview that the director felt that the specific industry that he worked in was in danger of becoming extinct in this country, calling metrology “a dying art”. There are few courses teaching these skills. I asked how long it would take to train an apprentice to equip them to work in the calibration industry; he specified a minimum of three years. He said he would take on apprentices under the proviso that the government would fund the costs of sending the employee to college and contribute to the wage bill.
In a damning indictment of current policy, he stated that in the 18 years that he had been running his business he had never once been given a single penny from the government to help sustain his industry- let alone seen any funds for an apprenticeship scheme.
This shows more than anything that when it comes to apprenticeships, the government simply must put its money where its mouth is. If it delivers on its promises to the youth, the government can save us from becoming the ‘unemployed generation.’
Victoria Desmond is a Young Fabian member