A new report by the IPPR think tank and the Local Government Association has poured cold water on the effectiveness of apprenticeships at introducing young people to work.
The report stated that 42% of apprenticeships actually went to people over 25 years, with two thirds to people already employed by the business supporting them. Nearly a quarter (24%) of 16-18 year olds were also not paid the minimum wage. Given that employment is the government’s answer to tackling levels of poverty, this is particularly worrying.
It is not that young people aren’t trying to get onto apprenticeships – in 2013-14, under 19 year olds applied for 57% of apprenticeships but only got 27%. Over 25s applied for 7% but received 37%. It’s that others with sharper elbows are quicker to spot a government-funded opportunity and to exploit it to better themselves. That’s not surprising; it’s the inevitable consequence of high unemployment. But it serves as an indicator as to what’s missing from policies aimed at young people.
There is an absence of vision for young people, emanating from government. There are no overarching coherent objectives or aspirations for young people. No policy initiatives that acknowledge the doubt, confusion and lack of direction which often characterise teenage years. No one is checking government announcements for their compatibility with young people’s needs and to ensure they support rather than undermine. No coordination between departments responsible for different aspects of young people’s needs.
As a result initiatives like apprenticeships end up being watered down and fail to impact on the very groups who need them most. NCS aside, young people are treated as mini-adults; they are given no particular support, and left to fight it out in the jobs market with everyone else.
The odds are stacked against them so young people need adults to champion them. They need help to make decisions about their future and to support them if things go wrong. Unemployed young people are not the same as unemployed adults. There is evidence that periods of being out of work when young creates a fear of the future, reduces optimism and establishes an expectation of future worklessness. In short it undermines the very resilience that is cited so often as crucial to young people’s development.
With the Conservatives pledging to create 3 million more apprenticeships during their term of government, this gap needs bridging urgently.