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'Youth unemployment faces worrying rise following Covid-19 pandemic', says Vine Trust boss

Kevin Davis chairs the Ladder apprenticeships campaign, set up to help those starting on the path into work. He also CEO of the Vine Trust and a board member of the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership. Here he writes about the impact of the Covid-19 economic recession on young people.

Apprenticeships remain crucial, especially in these difficult times

This week, Amazon and Sandwell Council paid out £375,000 to small and medium-sized firms to support apprenticeships in the region.

It comes as part of a move to help the West Midlands recover from the impact of coronavirus as restrictions are eased.

The funds have been paid out through the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund, set up by the West Midlands Combined Authority, under the view of Mayor Andy Street.

Youth unemployment faces a worrying rise following the Covid-19 pandemic, which has brought not just the UK but the world to a halt.

Young people will have to negotiate an uncertain future during an expected recession as employers who would have opened their doors to give them their first work opportunities, now face immense challenges to remain in business.

Apprenticeships and work placements for young people are likely to be reduced, as costs are managed and organisations trim their wage bills.

This dark outlook means that the work of the Ladder apprenticeships drive, which has helped thousands of young people get their first employment opportunities, the majority with first time apprentice employers, even more important.

CEO of The Vine Trust, Kevin Davis

In recent times, experts have issued a series of warnings on the economic outlook. Three former Chancellors from opposing political parties recently warned the Government to prepare for 1980s levels of unemployment as the coronavirus crisis sinks Britain into the deepest recession in living memory. Lord Alistair Darling, George Osborne and Philip Hammond said the government urgently needed to announce measures to cushion the blow as job losses began to mount.

Darling, who as Labour’s last Chancellor led the response from Number 11 Downing Street to the 2008 financial crisis, told the Commons Treasury committee: “We need to get ourselves into the frame of mind where we’re thinking about 1980s levels of unemployment.”

Osborne, his Conservative successor, also suggested the current economic collapse could trigger mass unemployment. “There will be loads of people in businesses that have gone bust that aren’t going to return, and people who are coming off furloughs into unemployment. That is going to be a big social challenge, and of course economic challenge, for this government,” he said.

In his role as Chair of the Education Select Committee, the Ladder’s patron, Robert Halfon MP, got a pledge from Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month to support young people against this backdrop. The Prime Minister promised an apprenticeship to every young person, as the government braces for a wave of youth unemployment in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Johnson confirmed the Government would draw up a strategy for tackling widespread job losses caused by the virus, including through major investment in skills and training.

When the Ladder first emerged in London in 2012, it was in response to rising youth employment, and it was as the capital’s mayor that Mr Johnson backed the Evening Standard newspaper-led campaign. The London Ladder saw 1,000 apprenticeships created though a year-long prominent campaign, backed by editorial to motivate and connect employers, trainers and young people.

With the improvement of the brand of apprenticeships across the UK, from 2014 I took on the mantel from London, chairing a new Ladder for the Black Country, then Shropshire, Staffordshire, Greater Birmingham and the wider West Midlands campaigns. In turn we have seen thousands of apprenticeships created, through partnerships across public, private and third sectors, as well as bespoke apprenticeship employment agencies.

Today, in a post-Covid lockdown, post furlough era we stand on the edge of another significant challenge to apprenticeships, as articulated by the former Chancellors.

Kevin Davis, chief executive of The Vine Trust Group. Pic: Lucy Young

The Ladder therefore will raise awareness of the Ladder challenge with its media partners Midland News Association, Reach and West Midlands TV, to make a difference.

We will go back to our roots to mitigate the economic impact on young people from the expected decline in first rung jobs.

Learning the lessons of previous campaigns, through partnerships we will navigate the current and forthcoming challenges, raising awareness, assisting employment, and underpinning vocational education.

With social distancing measures in place, we have had to re-think our celebration events, and so our awards in Greater Birmingham this year will be a combination of virtual and venue based, using the partnerships and platforms that are committed to our mobility mission.

Our region’s MPs, the business community, along with public sector and academic partners will need to look at how they can help address this issue.

It is inevitable that business leaders look at how they can stay profitable in the next business quarter or the remainder of this year, but we all need to take a more long-term view. No matter how small the opportunity offered to a young person today, it will make a big difference to their lives and the future economic prosperity of our region.

If every company closes the door to young people, whether that is a permanent first rung role, an apprenticeship or other training scheme, or even a work experience placement we will all see the skills gap grow in years to come.

Every part of the West Midlands and surrounding area has played its own proud part in the industrial heritage of this country. Birmingham, the Black Country, Shropshire and Staffordshire can all demonstrate how they have innovated and changed with the times.

The next few months will need more innovation. Young people can be at the centre of this. The need for the Ladder has never been greater. Working with our partners we will ensure we make a positive contribution to give young people the employment opportunities they deserve.