At a time when the UK Government is under increasing pressure to revive the economy, and every decision to spend, or save, is scrutinised by supporters and critics alike, there is surely one demographic in which we cannot afford to withhold investment: Britain’s youth.
There are currently 800,000 under-25s out of work, with another 600,000 leaving school this summer, into a market where there are fewer jobs and fewer opportunities. Apprenticeships can prevent mass youth unemployment, they have struck a chord with employers and employees, and it is time that the Third Sector played its part in investing in Britain’s future workforce.
In 2008, more than 220,000 people started an apprenticeship. They gained the skills and experience they needed, while companies across nearly every sector of industry reaped the rewards. The Government recognises the value of apprenticeships and quite rightly has committed to increase spending on apprentices to just under £1bn in 2009. Yet the closest most of us in the Third Sector get to seeing an apprentice is watching Alan Sugar’s underlings battle it out on the BBC.
I remember seeing my father’s indenture certificate on the wall of our house when I was younger, and I experienced firsthand the opportunities an apprenticeship gave him, and our family. Instead of claiming benefits, an apprentice’s talents are nurtured by their employer, their potential is acknowledged and nourished, and they are given an opportunity to succeed and given something to aim for. Furthermore, their productivity and output far outweigh any costs. Ten and 20 years on, it is these apprentices who will utilise their skills and experience to drive businesses forward. At Beatbullying, I can now see these benefits from the other side of the fence.
Apprenticeships aren’t new, but they have worked for some of the UK’s biggest companies, and they address some of the biggest problems threatening the productivity, effectiveness and very livelihood of so many voluntary and not-for-profit organisations. At a time when Third Sector organisations are increasingly reporting staff recruitment and retention problems, whilst bemoaning skills shortages among employees, apprenticeships offer a tangible solution. In other sectors, evidence suggests that well managed apprenticeships schemes have filled skills gaps, increased productivity, improved competitiveness and shaped a committed and competent workforce. Effective schemes also saved money on training and recruitment costs as staff turnover rates were reduced. The Government continues to devote millions of pounds to the expansion and strengthening of apprenticeships precisely because they work. The Third Sector, currently abject in its support of young people though apprenticeships, must act now and implement a Third Sector Apprenticeships programme, not only to help itself, but to help Britain’s youth.
The business case for Third Sector Apprenticeships is widely recognised. In a survey Beatbullying undertook of more than 200 CEOs, Directors and senior decision makers from small, medium and large charities across England, 86 per cent said they would employ an apprentice and two thirds would welcome a framework for the sector. They see the potential for smaller charities to take on an apprentice in development work or administration, while bigger charities would consider employing an apprentice in several departments, from research to fundraising. At Beatbullying, without funding or support, we currently employ two apprentices, delivering bullying prevention work and evaluating its impact. It’s easy to see how others could follow our example.
However, it’s not just good business sense for individual charities; apprenticeships in the Third Sector can improve economic stability and growth across the country. In economic terms, apprenticeships will provide a long-term return on investment that cannot be underestimated. Preventing mass youth unemployment, apprenticeships will save Britain the future costs of losing a generation, unemployed and unskilled, with associated criminal, social, health and mental problems.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the Third Sector also has a social responsibility to young people. Apprenticeships provide young people with much needed skills, support, training and opportunities to develop and succeed, the social impact of which cannot be underestimated. So many are discarded from education and ignored; they lack confidence, lose sight of their potential and see no future career or progression. Apprenticeships offer young people a development and training structure, something to aim for and a sense of being invested in. Their talents are nurtured, and their potential acknowledged and believed in. This breeds hope and confidence, which in turn motivates and strengthens the possibility that they will meeting their potential and make a positive contribution to society. Isn’t this part of what the sector represents? It seems to me that investing in the future of our young people, who will work for and manage charities, as they will businesses, in the decades to come, is exactly what the Third Sector should be doing.
Emma-Jane Cross is the CEO of the UK charity Beatbullying – www.beatbullying.org
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This post was written by Emma-Jane Cross