Living wage - consider the plight of young people

I would like to add my support to letters from Dee O’Connell and Susan Murray calling for a living wage for all, but also make a particular plea to employers to consider the plight of young people.

There are many local school and college leavers who do not choose to take the university route because they have a strong desire to work and to earn a fair wage.

The recession decimated recruitment from 2008 onwards, and even now, many still struggle to find any form of paid work at all, let alone a living wage.

The vast majority of job advertisements insist on at least two years’ experience often using very specific skills. Some jobseekers over 21 years old have never had any real experience of full time work.

Not everybody can afford to offer their services for nothing and you would be very lucky to build a career from unpaid work. To add insult to injury, the latest government ploy is to expect unqualified young people to work for up to five months without any pay – it’s called a “Traineeship”.

Realistically, young people are left with only one route to paid employment – apprenticeships.

I always assumed that apprenticeships were an excellent route to full employment with proper training and real pay for those aged 16 to 24 years.

How wrong I was on both fronts. The minimum wage for apprenticeships is £2.68/hour, whatever your age. If you are 19 years or over then you can still legally receive only £2.68/hour for the whole of your first year, after which you should move onto the relevant minimum wage for your age group (£5.03/hour for 18-20 years and £6.31/hour at 21 or over).

The training providers - usually colleges of further education or private organisations – are all chasing government funding for apprenticeships so they actively approach employers to take on young people on the lowest possible apprenticeship wage.

Without the young people, the providers don’t get paid. Nor are employers always honouring the national minimum wage; some are taking advantage of high levels of unemployment amongst the young by paying only £2.68/hour even if the employee is not an Apprentice and is not receiving any training. My then 21 year old son was treated like this. Another 22 year old was earning £2.65/hour (last year’s rates) but wasn’t even paid in the final 3 months of his job in Brighton, although he was trying to pay rent and bills out of his earnings.

Apart from poor rates of pay for young adult apprentices, the training offered in the vast majority of cases is at GCSE level or below. I have been watching the Apprentice vacancies since 2010 and I would estimate that around 95% are at this basic level, called “Intermediate Level”. The other 5% are called “Advanced” and offer training to A Level and there is huge competition for these, even amongst those who already have A Levels. This lack of Advanced Apprenticeships must be down to discrepancies in funding of the training. If you are aged 16-18 years then the government fully funds your training; if you are 19 years or older, the government only pays up to half the cost of your training. Employers have to fully fund the wages of any Apprentice, but those employing an Apprentice aged 19 or over also have to fund at least 50% of any training provided by an external party. Many of these training providers automatically reject those over 18 years of age as a result, especially if the candidates already have A level qualifications. Since providers may decide the shortlist of candidates, employers can be unaware that older or more qualified young persons have applied so never get the chance to consider them. Where is the incentive for an employer or indeed a training provider to take on an older or Advanced Apprentice?

Statistics also tell us that the majority of apprenticeships go to internal candidates who already have a job. How does an able unemployed young person get a job or an apprenticeship, especially if they already have A levels and are over 18 years old? Even if you are aged 16-18 years and are lucky enough to get an Apprenticeship, statistically you are very unlikely to get a permanent job after your apprenticeship ends, usually after only 1 year. Most of the time you will simply be used as temporary cheap labour.

For the sixth form leaver, where are the jobs or the Advanced Apprenticeships? Where are the Higher Apprenticeships (to degree level)? I haven’t seen a single Higher Apprenticeship advertised on the official Apprenticeship website in the last 4 years. Why cut at least 50% off funding if the candidate is already 19 or over? Unless this is corrected, the older, better qualified candidates will continue to be unemployed and lost. Jobseekers who happened to leave school in the last 6 years have had a very tough introduction to the world of work. Many of the more enterprising young folk are the entrepreneurs of the future yet they are being stifled before they even start their careers. Employers please help our local young people find real jobs and fair pay.

Liz Waters