Youth unemployment is seeing a decline in the United Kingdom but somewhere around 900,000 young people are still unemployed. That is approximately one out of every five 16-24 year old, with 40 percent of the entirely unemployed demographic being younger than 25. Since David Cameron came to power, to get the facts right, youth unemployment has seen a rise despite the commendable decrease in overall employment figures.
British businesses, its good to note, remain keen on recruiting new talent, so why is there such a persistent discrepancy in unemployment figures? Apprenticeships are one of the most popular ways that businesses address the national skills shortage in various sectors. The Chancellor George Osborne has even promised to double the number of apprenticeships and remarkably supply SMBs with grants for every apprentice they hire.
Apprentices are looked upon favourably for a myriad number of reasons: they bring enthusiasm, a fresh perspective and new skills into the workplace. In addition, they tend to be loyal, more knowledgeable about how their company functions, perhaps complimented by a ‘vibrant and young’ eagerness to learn, and increase both productivity and efficiency levels on the corporate level, despite the lack of long-term professional prospect. Furthermore, apprenticeships are crucial tools in passing on one generation’s skill to another’s, as well as providing higher wage returns for young men in the United Kingdom, primarily.
Although the nature of these contracts are mostly short-term, it still offers companies the opportunity to develop a much more skilled workforce for the future, depending on the level of enthusiasm and the dedication that the workers show towards their career while they are on an apprenticeship. When working on providing employment support to a wide-range of people, it is important to take into account that diversity in learning is a good practice – ethnic minority groups are already quite under-represented in the apprenticeship taskforce.
While there is no doubting the popularity of apprenticeships for businesses, there is no changing the fact either that society perceives them somewhat differently. Often an alternative to the more traditional route of schooling and an university education, society looks down upon apprentices because they think that they have chosen to partake in a much less successful and less capable route to obtaining employment.
This predisposition sometimes slips into job retainment rates too, further adding to the complexity of situations for apprentices, so there needs to be a crucial change of point of views here. Society and businesses, alike, need to have a much more clear and constructive understanding of the definition of “apprenticeships”. Employers should step forward and make that change by having a say in how these qualifications are structured, they could use their keenness on recruiting from the apprenticeships talent pool to productive use here and help change the definition of apprenticeships in our society.
New Labour introduced apprenticeships following a decline in its popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, when the manufacturing industry had to deal with many troubles, and the Coalition government has taken this agenda further and pledged to support an additional 75,000 apprenticeship schemes, which was a very welcoming move.
In a time of high youth employment, the prospect of gaining employment right after high school, coupled up with additional learning of a more vocational nature, is a lucrative venture to promote. This is because undertaking it would not only benefit businesses and tackle youth unemployment nationally, it would also help improve the perception society has of apprenticeships, due to the added benefit of vocational learning included in the job package.
If you take a look at the kind of schemes employed in countries where youth unemployment can generally be considered to be low, apprenticeships play a very important role in maintaining those figures. These countries, be it Australia or Switzerland, enjoy low youth unemployment rates because apprenticeship schemes are strongly supported by the government.
The government needs to be more involved in shifting perceptions here towards the positive because otherwise all this talk about a “lost generation” will simply end up nowhere at all. Young people out of work or disadvantaged are more likely to bear the brunt of stiff competition for places. The long-term unemployed are often looked upon as kids, who lack the very basic skills needed for acquiring an apprenticeship or a job, as well as not being motivated enough to put in the work required to gain such a demanding qualification.
Apprenticeships continue to carry the torch so-to-speak of the qualities that made job roles in the manufacturing industry endearing to many. It, generally-speaking, embodies the spirit of those traditional roles filled with practical and ‘hands-on’ work. This can be counted as both a positive and a challenging attribute because it also contributes to the longstanding prejudice that our society holds for apprenticeships.
Changing these attitudes is tough but there is no denying the fact that vocational learning holds important value in today’s times because it teaches you both practical skills and learning by the book. Apart from the classroom learning aspect of apprenticeships, there is also the bigger picture involved, where you look at how this qualification can help young people progress to higher education, and maybe even find suitable permanent employment.