Apprenticeships – A Quick Fix for Youth Unemployment?

The UK government announced the Youth Contract Scheme, intended to get Britain’s youth working.

Currently, there are over 1 million British youth on the unemployment register, and it is vital to get these people working.

Is the new initiative likely to do this?

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister has stated that Youth Contract Scheme will not be paid for by one single tax or saving measure, raising the question of how it will be financed. That should become clear on Tuesday, when George Osborne announces the Autumn budget.

Up to 410,000 work and training placements will be created in England, Wales and Scotland by giving employers wage incentives equivalent to half of the youth national minimum wage.

So we are paying the companies, for the privilege of employing low paid workers? That sounds like a good deal for them and reminds me of the Work Experience scheme where young people are being forced into Work Experience, without pay, doing the same jobs that paid workers are doing.

Proposals include:

– 250,000 young people will be offered work experience placements lasting up to eight weeks. These will be available to every unemployed 18-to 24-year-old who wants one and has been seeking work for three months or more.
– A £50m programme for the 25,000 most disadvantaged 16-and 17-year-olds in England – those not in employment, education or training – to get them onto an apprenticeship or into work.
– At least 20,000 additional incentive payments for firms in England to take on 16-to 24-year-olds in apprenticeships.
– More support for young people at job centres, such as extra time with advisers and a careers interview.

I have my problems with the Apprenticeship plan. Not that I think that they are not good – I did an apprenticeship in Germany and found it incredibly valuable, but we cannot do this half-heartedly.

Apprentice = Ausbildende, or AZUBI

The Germans have an apprenticeship system that is firmly rooted in their culture. Without an apprenticeship, it is difficult or impossible to get a job in Germany in many professions. You may be able to work in a shop, but hairdressers, plumbers, electricians, office staff, paralegals, mechanics, veterinary assistant, midwife – and many many others need an apprenticeship to find a job.

It is not just a cultural issue. The rights and responsibilities of apprenticeships are anchored in law. The apprentice must be allowed leave to attend vocational school, on either day release or block release. They must have a Ausbildungsvertrag – a written contract that details salary, structure and duration of the apprenticeship, daily working hours, day of annual leave etc.

If a company wishes to employ an apprentice, they must prove that they have an employee who has undergone the same training, and has gone on to do further vocational training to receive their “Meister” award, or in the case of industry and trade professions, an “Ausbildereignungsprüfung”.

Companies in Germany do not need to be bribed to take on apprentices. They are keen to do so, as they know that a well taught apprentice can do much to help their business. It is true that by the third year of the apprenticeship, many are doing the same job as the other worker for a lower price but it is accepted as the way things are and the price one has to pay for the training.

Bageshot wrote convincingly about the problem with apprenticeships in UK in the economist recently.

I have to agree. While the idea of apprenticeships is fantastic, I cannot help but think that British politicians see it is a quick fix, and it is anything but.

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