We cannot condemn a generation to insecure, low-paid, unfulfilling work

Kate Green
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

As Britain recovers from this pandemic, we have the opportunity to look to the future, to new technologies and green jobs. We must support existing industries and grow modern industries to build a long-term economy that provides security and good jobs for all.

This modern economy requires new skills and the ability for workers to train and progress to take advantage of the latest technologies, as well as retrain to take advantage of new opportunities. Young people must also be given the opportunity to learn a trade and build careers in new sectors moving our economy forward with their ambitions for the future. Yet disproportionate numbers of young people have lost out over the last year.

Workers aged 16 to 24 are twice as likely to have lost their job during the pandemic compared to older workers. At the end of May, 322,400 were on furlough, with research suggesting their jobs are likely to be the least stable when the scheme ends. Urgent action is needed if we are to avoid the next generation suffering long-term damage to their labour market prospects.

The Conservatives’ piecemeal approach with a complexity of different schemes and programmes has been insufficient to the scale of the challenge facing these young people. In the Kickstart scheme and a cash incentive to take on apprentices, the government has been handing out sticking plasters not long-term solutions.

Even prior to the pandemic, it was clear that the government’s strategy for apprenticeships was failing. In the years since the government introduced the apprenticeship levy, the number of starts, particularly among young people, have plummeted – and ministers have failed to get to grips with this problem.

Over the last decade of Conservative government, apprenticeship starts have fallen by over a third, while in the last five years the number of starts among under 25s has declined by 40%. The Conservatives abandoned their efforts to incentivise the creation of apprenticeships for young people in March this year. This presents a bleak outlook for young people looking to gain skills and enter the jobs market.

It is time for a bold alternative that will bring together businesses and young people to create the new skilled workforce we need to make, buy and sell more in Britain. Apprenticeship providers and those we want to provide new apprenticeships are clear that any workable incentive policy must address the main cost of an apprenticeship – wages.

Last year Labour called for an apprentice wage subsidy using over £300m in expired funds from the apprenticeships levy – paid by large employers – to subsidise the wages of 85,000 new apprentices aged 16 to 24. This would have created opportunities for young people hit hardest by the pandemic, but the Conservatives dismissed the idea.

This bold new approach to incentivising apprenticeships was just one element of Labour’s bigger offer to young people, and older workers, in the form of our Jobs Promise. This would deliver a guaranteed employment or training opportunity for young people out of work for six months or more, while supporting over 25s who are out of work for 12 months with a training or work placement.

By transforming the failing Kickstart scheme, which is only available to young people claiming out-of-work benefits, and condensing spending into two years rather than three, Labour’s offer would deliver more intensive support to more people with improved access to work placements, skills support, specialist services like mental health and early years, as well as local employer engagement.

We cannot be ambitious for our economy, for regenerating our high streets and our country’s future prosperity, without being ambitious for our young people and the skills development of the British workforce. Without action now, a generation will be condemned to insecure, low-paid, unfulfilling work that wastes individuals’ talents and economic potential. This cannot be allowed to happen.

We must seize opportunities to give people new skills so we can develop new industries, make more in Britain by giving public contracts to British companies, and bring jobs here in the UK, to bring security and resilience back to our economy and public services.

Unprecedented challenges call for innovative solutions. Labour is ready to propose bold new policies to boost our economy and offer our young people new opportunities to learn as they earn.

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