The Forum of Private Business is cautiously welcoming a government initiative to expand work experience for young unemployed people – but warning more needs to be done to review the quality of training they receive and free apprenticeships and work placements from red tape.
The new scheme will increase the time individuals aged between 18 and 21 are allowed to do work experience without the risk of losing benefits from two to eight weeks.
In addition, specialist staff at Jobcentre Plus will now be responsible for matching young people looking for work with employers offering work experience placements.
The scheme was announced today by Employment Minister Chris Grayling ahead of a summit on skills and employment being held by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) tomorrow.
The Forum’s Chief Executive, Phil Orford, who is attending the meeting, called for a ‘holistic’ approach to tackling youth unemployment.
"This is an important and welcome scheme to improve and expand work experience," said Mr Orford. "If small businesses in the private sector are to lead job creation and tackle unemployment they need a better labour market that includes young, ambitious and talented individuals who know what it takes to thrive in the world of work," said Mr Orford.
"But we must ensure that processes are in place to monitor the effectiveness of the training provided so that our young people are given the best opportunities possible – we don’t want them to be left sweeping up or just making the tea."
He added: "Further, we know that there are significant barriers to creating permanent jobs, apprenticeships and work placements as a direct result of the tax system and red tape.
"As part of a more holistic approach to youth unemployment and job creation, simplifying tax and reducing regulation is vital in order to free employers to build better pathways to the workplace for young people on benefits or in the education system."
According to the latest official figures released last week unemployment has risen dramatically, particularly among young people.
The total number of people under 25 who are out of work increased by 32,000 to 951,000 in the three months to November – at 20.3% the highest unemployment rate for 20 years. Among those aged 16 to 17 total numbers rose by 27,000 in the same period.
In the Forum’s latest tax and budget member panel survey, published in January, 78% of small businesses said the tax system is a barrier to taking on new staff and 57% called for it to be improved significantly to allow them to create jobs.
More than one in five (22%) believe that using subcontractors is a more flexible, cost-effective solution to staffing shortages than direct employment.
Small businesses surveyed in the Forum’s Employment Law member panel in may 2010 fear the complexity of redundancy and disciplinary procedures will reduce opportunities for young people.
They believe that the imminent abolition of the Default Retirement Age (DRA) will effectively end traditional apprenticeships because they will no longer be able to operate the established process of retiring tradesmen training up young replacements as effectively as in previous years.
Forum research on training and work experience requirements
Businesses are still more interested in the competency an individual gets from training rather than qualifications – 57% of business owners rated competency as very important compared to 20% who rated qualifications similarly highly (Referendum 190 – January 2010).
In all, 25% want the training and skills infrastructure to focus on apprenticeships and practical skills, 21% want better access to grants and 12% wanted more incentives for employers to put people on courses during working hours (Referendum 190 – January 2010).
Making courses relevant was the big problem that smaller employers had with training providers. A total of 20% want more local training specific to their industry, 19% want courses to be more tailored, 14% require a greater understanding of business needs and 11% want more emphasis on the workplace (Referendum 190 – January 2010).
Greater use of day release and night school alongside more intensive practical training is required to give a better balance than the current national apprenticeships schemes (training and skills member panel)
Half of small businesses surveyed (50%) feel training should be linked more closely to business support and 56% want greater use of named local training advisers to help business owners make training of staff more effective.
A total of 29% of Forum members would not consider providing work experience at any cost (Referendum 190 – January 2010).
But 54% would like grants to cover the cost of workplace training and 25% would be interested in free risk assessments to help in this respect (Referendum 190 – January 2010).
Finally, 43% would like schools to focus more on workplace skills and 32% would like them to provide induction and health and safety training in the classroom to increase the time they can spend actually in work experience (Referendum 190 – January 2010).
Forum member Rod Boulton owns J R Designs, which is a family-run business that has been manufacturing cast brass plaques from a small foundry in Leicester since 1978. He said he requires his employees to multi-task and, because of a lack of relevant educational courses, the company carries out all of its training in-house.
"I would certainly welcome a work experience scheme of this nature but there are a range of issues that make it extremely hard to create jobs and take on apprentices and work experience placements," said Mr Boulton.
"As a micro business of less than 10 staff I have to bear the cost and risk of employment and training – even putting my own home on the line," said Mr Boulton. "So when I’m interviewing someone I have to ask quite probing questions to determine their attitude and skills, but by doing that in certain areas you risk flouting employment law.
"Similarly, health and safety regulations are often a real barrier to taking on apprentices, which we are being encouraged to do at the moment. I simply cannot afford to employ someone full-time to oversee health and safety so I have to fill out all of the forms myself during the 70-odd hours I work each week.
"It’s not just the form filling but also the worry in the back of your mind that you might not have done something right. The stress levels can be great, and I have to prioritise my time based on the potentially most damaging areas to my business. It’s often a waste of time to take someone on and go through all of this only to have them disappear within a few months."
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