20 Sep 2012

Plastic apprenticeships and jobs-hogging

We at Channel 4 have been looking in depth at the structural problems in the market for youth jobs. Our colleagues at C4 Education are launching a great documentary following four young unemployed Britons this week. I have been following a couple of people over the summer. Today we had a great event with politicians, CEOs and a cast of dozens of unemployed and underemployed youth [see below for the full video broadcast of the event].

I draw ten insights from this about youth jobs. All bear further investigation or statistical validation, but I think they begin to shed light on what is going on.

1. Jobs “hogging”
Sainsbury’s chief Justin King told us that there was less churn in the jobs market. Older workers are staying in work for longer. There are simply fewer points of entry to the jobs market for new entrants, whether the young, or returning mothers. Someone else pointed out specifically, in the case of teachers, that retired workers dipping back into the profession were blocking the progress newly-qualified teachers.

2. Tuition fees rot has set
David Miliband and others implored our audience to ignore the conditional debts and go for university if they want to. I asked our audience of 150 young people if they would advise a younger brother or sister to go to university: Most said “No”. When put together with the actual fall in applications, this is clearly of concern to the Coalition. Blame the media, or politicians, but the young wrongly believe that university will bankrupt them. Why not rebrand it the “graduate tax” that it almost is?

3. Incredible job applications numbers
There are 300,000 applications for 30,000 jobs at Sainsburys. At O2 chief executive Ronan Dunne tells me there are 60,000 applications for 1,500 jobs

4. Most CVs are not read by a human
Many have suspected this. Today’s event and some of my own recent reporting has shown me that the impact of the computerisation of the job application process. The sheer number of applications has led to some degree of outsourcing of dealing with them. Probably you presume that a human flicks through it for a few seconds. What is now far more common is a computer programme will keyword search a CV with an algorithm (probably less sophisticated than Google’s). It would rank relevant words and skills (SQL, apps, Mandarin etc), and the proximity of those words and turn tens of thousands of applications into a few hundred candidates.

5. So young workers should game the system?
This can create problems. In tonight’s news I meet a first class economics graduate who just kept on being offered only jobs in sales and recruitment. I strongly suspect this is because her CV has those words as her work experience. The answer if she wants a job as a top city economist: change your CV entirely with a keyword-sniffing robot in mind

6. “Plastic” apprenticeships
Apprenticeships are absolutely key to the government’s fight against youth unemployment. Therefore this verdict again from Justin King at today’s Class of 2012 event is extraordinary.

“I do believe the word apprentice has become hijacked. A lot of things masquerade as apprenticeships which are not what you and I would recognise as an apprenticeship – learning a skill over an extended period of time…I think it’s pretty hard to do what most of us would think of as an apprenticeship in three or six months. Therefore the word has been hijacked, which I think is unhelpful in the debate…”

7. But big business can do more
Only 30 per cent of large employers offer apprenticeships, was David Miliband’s key statistic. What of the 70 per cent that do not? O2’s boss Dunne quoted new figures from the CIPD that “six in ten employers don’t offer any routes into their organisation for non-graduates”. Not just that, 44 per cent of employers don’t plan to employ any 16-24 year olds in the coming year.

8. And so can government
Today’s DWP Committee report said that this government’s youth contract was not going to meet its targets. The Coalition scrapped the Future Jobs Fund as one of its first moves. King argued that wage subsidies don’t really work, because they are temporary. He wants the return of the Confidence Fairy. The government seems to be casting around for important new changes to economic policy, particularly in relation to public investment spending.

9. But young workers need to be very smart…
Not just in search optimising their CVs for the robots reading them. There are huge skills gaps around that need filling. App development, food science, Mandarin-speaking, German-speaking, plumbing. to name just five.

10. Aspiration adjustment, at least temporarily
If politicians were forced to wear the mask of truth on this subject they would admit that for reasons of global competition and economic reality, young workers need to reassess their initial aspirations. It’s already happening with graduates to some degree. Politicians, however, don’t like to depart from the inspirational narrative that everyone can do anything.

For top tips on job seeking and an insight into the mind of the UK’s top employers, watch the debate in full:

Follow Faisal on Twitter via @faisalislam

11 reader comments

  1. ukdeadduck says:

    Putting people into uni lets the government push state backed “loans”, many of which are never going to be repaid. Just like the housing market bubble it allows the fast injection of credit into the economy that is spent today and paid back over the next 20. We are just starting to see the effects of this lethal private debt drag – a hole from which the UK will not escape without a formal default.

    The government want high uni participation because it allows credit creation and keeps people off the unemployment stats.

  2. Nic says:

    Given the economic realities and lack of work and opportunities available, should the government stop demonising benefit claimants and focus on creating a new relationship to work? The fact is, we’re going to have very overqualified people doing jobs that are a waste of their skills. Add to this that the compensation they receive for this work will also be lower, essentially educated people are now getting the luck of the draw on a decent life as 1 amid 100 applicants for any job.

    In this situation, likely there will be a certain amount of resentment, and given the way our society is divided, deeply unequal and classist, trouble might brew. More redistribution, a cutting of employment taxes and NI, limits on earnings, the normalising of part time work and higher rates of tax for the rich and higher rates of pay for grunt work?

    None of this is unrealistic. It’s simply not within the realm of contemplation of unimaginative politicians.

  3. Joel Carter says:

    Apprenticeships have been a big problem for the young people I support – regularly not what they sell themselves as. Availability and quality do not match expectations of young people who are genuinely inspired by the ubiquitous aspirational advertising. I think 10 is very important – how demoralising to be told of the ‘opportunities’ available and to find none. Honesty with support would be more motivating.

  4. Philip Edwards says:


    “…young workers need to reassess their initial aspirations.”

    Of course they do. Otherwise, where will the “risk takers” and “entrepreneurs” get their pool of ready cheap labour?

    Equally of course, the “risk takers” and “entrepreneurs” won’t need to reassess their aspirations for maximum profit at least labour cost.

    I’m still waiting for somebody to explain to me why the rich should make more money to encourage them, while the poor should make less money to encourage themselves.

    As for “aspirations,” they don’t matter……unless they are part of your standard MBA module titled “Delusion.”

    Anyway, youngsters should surely take the advice of Norman Tebbitt, stop moaning, get on their bikes and look for work outside London. Either that or shuffle into the dole queue like the other (minimum) 2.6 million.

    They might as well get ready for the next Great Depression because it will be along right on time in the next generation. That’s after another bubble scam inflates of course.

  5. tracy uden says:

    I would really like to know just how many real apprenticeship vacancies there are ! My son has applied for hundreds and has been asked along for a few interviews but during the interview it is obvious that the position has already been fiiled via inhouse. My son always receives an excellent interview feedback, but he desperately wants to build a career for himself as he does not want to work part-time at a supermarket, as this would never pay for a mortgage and family. It is totally unfair also how so many foreign people are given jobs over our own – You go abroad you would always be considered after their own people.

    I feel that the government should maybe stand back and look at all these points – It would be an eye opener for them if they saw how this situation affected their children, it is heart-breaking as a parent to watch knowing there is nothing you can do except support and reassure them that something will turn up. I feel confident that there are tens of thousands of parents in the same situation as us.

    With the current job market I find it mad that the government are encouraging old people to stay on at work and increasing the retirement age – this surely only…

    1. e says:

      You know, when you have a Department of Work and Pensions Minister talking about the unemployed in terms of “If they do the right thing” in the face of the blindingly bloody obvious: conditions which tell us labour numbers are currently massively surplus to ‘free market’ conditions. It’s not eyes that need to be opened, it’s wallets, the ones in which the govenment have placed their common humanity along with their imagination and integrity.

  6. Karl Crawford says:

    There are indeed many plastic apprenticeships,which are in fact actual jobs that dont need much training such as catering ,call centre work etc. Companies ,both in the public and private sector offer these as apprenticeships so as to avoid actually paying a living wage. I mean since when did people ‘serve their time’ years ago as cooks, customer service, refuse workers etc.These were jobs with decent pay from day one . Apprentices should be skilled trades and if not employers should pay at least the mininum wage from day one.

  7. Muggwhump says:

    I think that point 10 goes some way towards addressing point 2.
    I’m sure that when these rules were drawn up £21,000 a year was still a reasonable sum of money ie You won’t start paying back your loan until you are earning enough to be living an independent life of some kind, renting a flat or even paying a small mortgage, running a car etc…
    These days though £21,000 is nothing. However you dress them up people will still see tuition fees as a debt millstone hanging round their necks holding them back for years with payments that kick-in while they are still stuck living at home with mum and dad.

  8. Ian Erskine says:

    Karl, you’ve got it bang right. The complete nonsense peddled by this Coalition lot re almost everything connected with the economy is becoming tiresome. Growth, youth unemployment, the numbers of low level unskilled jobs being created is down to one single thing and that is a significant lack of demand in the economy. This government has done nothing to stimulate demand, quite the opposite. Sorry, but nothing will change as long as this lot are in power.

    1. Karl Crawford says:

      Cheers Ian , yes I think the tories have always had this agenda irrespective of the financial crisis they ‘fortunately’ found themselves in. They have always wanted to cut the size and power of the state and the deficit and the ‘mess they were left with’ is the ideal excuse for this.Cameron and Osborne have had this dream since being at public school. I agree that the nanny state and issues such as health and safety did get a little out of hand under Labour. But yes there simply isnt any demand out their ,hence high unemployment and a large educated youthful population.Mind you when I left Uni in 1991 ,I couldnt get a job for 3 years,then though there wasnt the social media and indeed media coverage in general to cover our plight. Such coverage is one of the improvements in modern times, that they do at least have some sort of voice.The long term unemployed and sickness claimants(older less educated unemployed) was caused by the Tories favouring Incap benefit to mask the unemployed figures and maintained by Labour so as not to upset their own voters and also it was a more politically correct era .By the time this goverment now is finished we will all be yearning for political…

  9. Andrew Dundas says:

    Most pensioners are the amongst the most well-off section of society, with nice annual pay increments. Whilst the under-30s are getting the worst deal right across the board.
    Why is that?
    One explanation is that politicians are just like you and I. They look to their own self-interest. They want to be re-elected.
    Politicians know which types of electors vote the most: it’s the older folk. Especially pensioners. Politicians also know that most under-30s are the least likely to vote.
    Given that clear difference, which types of electors would you give pension increases to, and which types of elector would you ignore or penalise with higher tuition fees?

    So, my pretty youngsters. Look and learn! Registering and voting does you good. Saying ‘I can’t be bothered’ costs you! Go to it!

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