19 Sep 2012

David Miliband: ‘We must guarantee jobs for young people’

Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband tells the C4 Class of 2012 that the government needs to guarantee jobs, while Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King says modern apprenticeships “have been hijacked”.

Click here to see the full broadcast of the full C4 Class of 2012 event.

MPs, youth groups and big business debated the issue of youth unemployment today – examining access, transport and opposing party policy on creating jobs for the 1.02m unemployed young people.

Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Channel 4’s Class of 2012 event: “No country in the world has abolished long term unemployment without a guaranteed job for a youngster who has been unemployed for a certain amount of time. If we’re serious…we’re going to have to say to young people – we’ll guarantee you a job in the voluntary sector, public sector or private sector.”

Calling for more serious action on youth unemployment he said: “One in 50 will get a job through the work programme. It’s not serious to take out a peashooter and pretend you’re going to blow up a tank. This is a big enough problem that it will require a structural answer.”

One in 50 will get a job through the work programme. It’s not serious to take out a peashooter and pretend you’re going to blow up a tank. David Miliband

“I would say there is a real structural issue for western economies like ours. The big economic growth in the world is in India and China so there are big questions being asked in countries like ours. I don’t think we’re fated to be losers in that battle. But it’s not going to be handed to us on a plate.”

University vs apprenticeship

At a panel event chaired by Channel 4’s Economics Editor Faisal Islam, young people in the audience questioned whether a degree was still worth getting considering the cost and the apparent lack of jobs after graduating. However Mr Miliband urged young people not to be put off by tuition fees, saying “you’re at the front of the jobs queue if you’ve got a degree” adding that a degree is essential when competing with other economies for jobs.

He called on employers to tell government the skills that they are looking for: “Employers should tell ministers; ‘Don’t just hark back to the kind of education you [ministers] had’…we’ve got to look at the requirements needed for work in the future.”

When discussing why some the majority of companies fail to take on apprenticeships, Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King criticised some modern apprenticeships, saying that the word had “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,” he said. “I think it’s pretty hard to do what most of us would think of as an apprenticeship in three or six months.”

“If you’re going to train someone in three years, you have to be confident htat you have work for them. That lack of confidence in the future…is the reason that most businesses won’t create apprenticeships.”

Read more on youth unemployment in Jon Snow's blog: The 'one million' challenge

Cheer for travel subsidies

During an earlier panel chaired by Jon Snow, Labour MP Stella Creasy received a round of applause after calling for cross-party action on subsidising transport for young job-seekers. “I’m hoping that Damian [Collins, Conservative MP] will help me go back and lobby bus companies and the Mayor of London to help people who are serious about opportunities get there,” she said.

Chelsie, a campaigner on Channel 4’s youth campaigning series, Battlefront, told Channel 4 News that transport costs were a real concern for young job seekers: “Being able to get around in London is is really expensive. If there was an incentive to help me get to job interviews or work experience, I’d welcome that with open arms.”

Ms Creasy also criticised the lack of coordination between the wide range of services available, and said that much of the careers services had been taken away.

But Mr Collins said other providers were brought in because the government was unhappy with the effectiveness of previous schemes, adding: “There is a real role for local authorities to work with business and schools to marry up opportunities.”

Billy shares his experience of being unemployed, as part of the Battlefront youth campaign.

‘Just shelf-stacking’

Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King told an audience member who said she had applied for a job “just shelf-stacking” in a supermarket but had been turned down, that using the phrase would be “turn-off” in itself, as young people needed to display emotional investment in a job.

He also revealed that he himself has been turned down for a job at Sainsbury’s, saying: “It’s important for young people to believe that when they’ve had knockbacks, so have others and you can come through it. I applied to Sainsbury’s when I was 16 and they rejected me.”

I applied to Sainsbury when I was 16 and they rejected me. Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King on overcoming professional rejection

02 chief executive Ronan Dunne said his first job flipping burgers gave him skills he used every day in his current role. He also explained that many employers are reluctant to offer apprenticeships out of fear over the economic situation.

Lucy Marcus founder and CEO of Marcus Ventures said that companies should do more to educate the wider world about the kind of roles that exist so that young people know what they’re aiming for. “Companies have more power and reach than government,” she added. “Youth unemployment is a boardroom issue, not just one for government.”

The event was organised by Channel 4 News in conjunction with Channel 4‘s Battlefront – a campaigning initiative that gives young people the knowledge they need to campaign on issues like youth unemployment.

Liam Preston, outgoing chair of the British Youth Council, described the current youth unemployment figures as a “massive tragedy for young people”.