IT IS the age-old paradox of London. The city is a global economic powerhouse, a job-creation machine, but has stubbornly high unemployment. It is one of the world’s great training and education capitals, where people flock from far and wide to improve their skills, and yet it has a large pool of unskilled workers. Two of the most commonly expressed concerns of businesses and the young are in reality mirror images of each other – employers complain they cannot get the workers with the skills they need, while young people (and their parents) fret they won’t get the opportunities they need to get ahead in life.
As the Prime Minister will announce today with the Mayor in the Olympic Park, there is a solution. Employers need to help make people job-ready, and a valuable addition to the workforce. Doing this has social benefits, but helping upskill the workforce is also in employer’s self-interest. It is not something that schools and colleges can do in isolation.
In the past year we have been campaigning to increase the level of apprenticeships in London, up from its historic low level, with a target of 20,000. With help from consultants at Accenture, we have shown employers that apprenticeships can be reconfigured to be appropriate to the modern service sector economy, not just traditional areas such as manufacturing. London companies have responded with enthusiasm because they can see that it is a cost-effective way to recruit, train and retain a skilled and dedicated workforce. Big names like Microsoft and HSBC are now embracing apprenticeships – and more financial services firms are set to follow. Thanks to this campaign, apprenticeships have been rising far faster in London than elsewhere.
But there is more we can do. Many young people – particularly those who grew up in workless households – have little insight about the world of work. They need to experience work first hand to raise their aspirations – there is no better cure for demotivation than seeing something worth striving for. The government has said that it wants to allow employers to take young unemployed people for short unpaid placements without them losing their unemployment benefits: it is clearly better that they go into a workplace than sit at home. Many employers have told us they are enthusiastic about this, while for the young unemployed the benefits of this experience and subsequent opportunities are obvious.
London employers have embraced apprenticeships: for the same reasons, they should now embrace work placements for the young unemployed.
Anthony Browne is an adviser to the Mayor of London