The loony Left, out to destroy youngsters’ hopes of a job
Tesco was one of the firms scared out of the work experience programme
Last Updated: 7:21AM GMT 27/02/2012
Businesses that offer the young a chance of real work should be praised, not vilified, says Boris Johnson.
Well isn’t that just great. Isn’t that just abso-flipping-lutely fan-blooming-tastic. Just when you thought the loony Left had reached rock bottom – with their sagacious proposals to “hang the bankers” and put taxes up to 80 per cent – they have come up with something even worse. There are so-called socialists in London who are now taking active steps to scupper young people’s chances of finding employment.
Here we are with an economy still taking ages to recover. We have more and more young people out of work, and who find themselves caught in a catch-22. They are told they can’t get a job unless they have some work experience; and they can’t get any work experience unless someone is willing to give them a job.
The Coalition has come up with a scheme to help them into places of work, and to give them at least some of the confidence and the credentials they crave. Instead of just drawing benefits and sitting at home, waiting for their luck to change, they are given the option – the option – of getting some practical understanding of what it is like to be an employee. Since January last year about 34,000 people aged 16-24 have been given their Jobseeker’s Allowance and travel costs while doing work experience in a huge range of businesses. They are not forced to do it, and they can pull out of it within a week if they don’t like it – with no loss of benefits.
But the overwhelming majority have been in favour, and more than 50 per cent have come off benefits within 13 weeks of signing up for the scheme – most of them to go into full-time jobs. All sorts of companies have found room for these young people – from Tesco to Boots to Debenhams to Argos, and many other smaller businesses. It seems on the face of it a benign and commonsensical arrangement, when those young people would otherwise be excluded from the workplace at a formative period of their lives.
And yet there are a tiny number of bellyachers from the Socialist Workers Party who have decided that they hate the scheme, that it is a ramp for bullying and exploitation, and that they are going to disrupt it in any way they can. The amazing thing is that they appear to be succeeding. They have been sitting with their placards in McDonald’s and Tesco, and wailing about “slave labour”.
They have been bawling about the need for “proper” jobs, and denouncing all companies who cooperate with the scheme. You may wonder what these “proper” jobs might be: presumably the kind of self-replicating public sector positions that so rampantly expanded in the era of Gordon Brown, and that helped to wreck the public finances.
But the worst of it is that the companies themselves are taking fright. They don’t want to be thought of as silk top-hatted slave-drivers. They know that a spirit of anti-capitalism stalks the land, a fire-breathing beast that has shrivelled Stephen Hester’s bonus in its nostril-blast, and scorched Fred Goodwin’s knighthood, and now seeks whomever else it may devour.
They have seen what happened to the St Paul’s clergy who got in the way of the Occupy movement – and they don’t want to be the next in line. Certain sections of the media have been flamming it up, with loose talk of “workfare”, and the companies are now nervously telling the Government that they would rather not be involved.
Well, it is quite vital that they hold their nerve, and that they continue to help young people into work – indeed, it is vital that they step up their efforts.
One of the biggest problems we now face is that companies are relatively flush with cash – but don’t have the nerve to spend it; and that means they are neither expanding nor taking on more staff. This is precisely the moment when they need to be given every possible encouragement – and praise – for letting young people through their doors. They should be championed, they should be extolled, for taking on young people as workers, and the bleats of protest from the loony Left should be ignored.
In London we have been working with the National Apprenticeship Service to create more opportunities for young people – and in the last 18 months we have helped place about 54,000 apprentices. People are getting off benefits and into work. They are earning at least the minimum wage. Instead of collapsing back into depression and self-doubt they are in a place of work – with all its stresses and joys – and they are learning the cunning you need to hold down a job.
They are finding out about turning up on time, and wearing a suit, and office politics: all kinds of things that you can never really understand in even the best training colleges. They are getting the appetite and ambition and competitive work ethic that you can only find in a place of work itself. So far, 85 per cent of them have gone on to get full-time employment, and we need to accelerate this scheme. We are currently seeing new apprenticeships generated in London – which used to lag behind the rest of the country – at a rate of 5,000 a week.
We think we will get up to 100,000 by the end of the year. There is much more that can be done to make the scheme work faster and better. I am now pushing to make sure that businesses that take on apprentices get a National Insurance holiday. We are looking at ways of encouraging people to stay in work, for instance by giving them – as a bonus – a share of the saving in unemployment benefit.
These schemes are working, because business can see clear benefits from hiring apprentices. They are typically loyal and hard-working, and all the evidence is that firms that hire apprentices are more productive. The man who transformed modern Tesco didn’t arrive as an Oxbridge graduate trainee. Sir Terry Leahy began by sweeping floors.
It doesn’t matter where you start. It just matters where you are going, and you can’t get going unless you are given a start.
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