Apprenticeships: The answer for London’s unemployed youths?


With youth unemployment at a record high of one million, councils are calling for solutions to boost the economy.


By Laura Walkinshaw

It’s a cold Monday morning in Brixton and the job centre is packed. Young men and women – school-leavers and graduates alike – make up a big proportion of the room, all sharing the same problem: they can’t find a job.

With youth unemployment in the UK at a record high of one million, councils across the country are calling for the coalition government to find solutions and boost the economy.

Latest figures suggest youths are bearing the brunt of knock-on effects from government cuts to local council services, with 18-24 year olds making up one quarter of those claiming unemployment benefits in south London.

Lambeth is one borough in London that knows this struggle only too well. Hit hard by the May 2010 cuts, it lost a third of its funding from government and is having to find savings of nearly £90 million over three years.

One area that has suffered most is children and young people’s services. With £12 million slashed from its budget this year, services like Connexions – a careers advice centre for young people – have been affected, while the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) has been scrapped.

Councillor Rachel Heywood, Lambeth’s cabinet member for community safety, is one of many who feel the ‘austerity measures’ taken by central government have hit the most disadvantaged areas the hardest.

“We are having to make some very tough decisions about which services we protect, and which services we take money away from,” she says. 

She says the council is trying to safeguard services for young people by putting many of them into a community trust, but anti-cuts group Lambeth Save Our Services (SOS) isn’t convinced.

The idea behind the trust, or co-operative council plan, is to give the local community the opportunity to have more say on how services are run.

But moving services across to trusts could be very risky, says Dan Jeffery from Lambeth SOS, who organised a march through Brixton’s Windrush Square last month to protest cuts.

“We just think it’s not the answer,” he says. “It removes services from democratic control and leads to a totally hands-off approach from the councillors because at the end of the day they were elected to run the services and it’s a cop-out to just hand them over to other trusts and elsewhere, which ultimately do not have the democratic control that a local government does.

“It will push things towards the privatisation route and if they think that’s safeguarding it, we totally disagree.”

Some 200 jobs have also been axed in the council’s children and young person’s services department and voluntary organisations helping young people have lost up to 35% of their funding.

One of these was Brixton-based Live, a magazine created by 16-24 year olds, which was almost shut down because of the cuts.

Now funded by advertising, the magazine is thriving and the young people working behind the scenes are still getting the chance to gain real-life experience – something which could be the difference between getting a job and not getting a job.

While the council is working on boosting employment with apprenticeship opportunities in the borough, Councillor Sally Prentice admits the competition is making it difficult for young people to start their working lives.

Cllr Prentice, Lambeth’s deputy cabinet member for employment and enterprise, says that apprenticeships could be key to getting out of the recession, as employing new people can be crucial to a business’s growth.

“It’s mainly about trying to get the economy moving,” she says. “I think what the government needs to be doing more of is working to stimulate the economic growth of small and medium-sized enterprises.

“If a business is in a position to take on an extra member of staff, then young people could be given those opportunities,” she adds.

The government’s £1bn apprenticeship initiative could be the answer to Lambeth’s unemployment woes, but some fear the emphasis on work experience could lead to the exploitation of young people.

The government says the scheme will, however, provide opportunities for 500,000 unemployed people across the country.

Only time will tell if the investment will pay off, but in the aftermath of cuts and worrying unemployment rates, this could be what Lambeth’s jobseekers have been waiting for.

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