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.