There is no doubt that a skills revolution is well underway in the UK. The apprenticeship levy is already dramatically changing in-work training, while the new T-levels system will transform the face of vocational education in schools.
The government deserves full marks for the boldness of this radical programme of reform, which over time will go a long way to levelling the playing field between vocational and academic education.
However, when it comes to social mobility and ensuring the changes help the most disadvantaged young people, the government is at serious risk of failing the skills test. While the skills reforms will help many young people, there is a serious danger that the individuals who need this revolution the most will be excluded – the 800,000 young people in the UK who are currently not in education, employment or training (so-called NEETs).
The reality is that for various reasons, apprenticeships are simply out of reach for many young people. Frequently, they feel isolated from the labour market and can face personal barriers when trying to get into work, finding themselves trapped in the vicious cycle of 'no experience, no job – no job, no experience’.
These are the young people that Movement to Work is fighting for by creating work placements as their first step on the journey into employment. We believe that if the government is going to achieve its ambition to create greater social mobility by helping the most disadvantaged, it must do more to get young people who are NEET into apprenticeships.
Our model is simple: as a coalition of the UK’s most progressive employers, such as Accenture, BAE Systems, BT, Centrica, Diageo and M&S, our members offer high-quality work experience placements to unemployed individuals, particularly those with disadvantaged backgrounds. These placements act as a pre-apprenticeship springboard to enable young people to become ‘work ready’ before they begin an apprenticeship. They also enable employers to develop individuals with potential and commitment, preparing them to go into apprenticeships and further training.
We collaborate with a range of expert delivery partners, including Catch22 and Talent Match, to help businesses source candidates and build trusting relationships with them through wrap-around soft skills support. By addressing barriers to work and providing on-the-job work experience, employers are able to reach those furthest from employment and help them build positive aspirations.
Still, this requires significant time and resources. We believe that the government should be investing in this work in the same way it is investing in the broader skills agenda.
The apprenticeship levy presents a once-in-a-generation, if not once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity for the government to invest in tackling youth unemployment. With the levy generating enormous revenues, we strongly believe that a proportion of those resources should be targeted specifically at offering pre-apprenticeship training to young NEETs.
This is not a plea for the government to fund employers to provide work placements. Companies are already committed to doing that without government support. What we want is to see greater resources channelled to the charities and youth organisations working to identify and support the most disadvantaged young people so that they can take the work placement opportunities being offered by British businesses through Movement to Work.
So for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week, I encourage employers to join Movement to Work and support our mission to create opportunities for young people, and we call on the government to do more so that the skills revolution really does benefit the people who need it the most.
James Ashall is programme director of Movement to Work