Do not rely on the Government measures – invest in yourself

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 21 July 2020 9:25

Do not rely on the Government measures – invest in yourself

As bold as Government measures might be to help protect a generation of young people from the full corrosive force of the coronavirus pandemic, they must make their own luck. 

Matthew Burgess, the principal and chief executive of Gloucestershire College, had a frank but positive message when asked what he thought of Rishi Sunak’s measures to deliver meaningful help for those already being hardest hit by the emerging economic challenges. 

As well-intentioned as the Government key measures are – cash incentives to hire apprentices and £2blln to fund “hundreds of thousands of high quality” six-month work placements aimed at those aged 16 to 24 – Mr Burgess was clear. 

“What we know from the last crash is that young people bear the brunt of this. Young people who did best out of the last crash are those young people who trained to the highest level,” he said, suggesting, without saying it, that a holding pattern of in some work placements would simply not be a good use of their time.

“Those who worked to improve their qualifications did better than those who just worked and did better for the next 10 years. 

“The best thing young people can do that this time is to get qualified to the highest level.” 

Mr Burgess was giving his verdict on the two main tenets of the Government’s measures to give meaningful prospects to young people. And he was clear, they should not be relied upon to be the panacea for what lay ahead. 

“I would have liked to see a bit more joined-up thinking,” he said. “I think there is an opportunity there which has been missed.” 

By which he said the two schemes – one supporting apprenticeship and one work placements - could have been mixed to help those who secure work placements to acquire not just a line on their CV, but a route towards real meaningful training. 

For its part – as an institution expected to deliver under like never before – the college has undergone its own revolution to ensure it was well-placed to deliver. 

This is not just transferring on-line when lockdown hit – staff and students alike at its Gloucester, Cheltenham and Forest of Dean campuses - a mammoth task in itself.

Its Business Hub is ready to meet businesses to help them identify the kinds of staff they need and shape the kinds of courses they want their staff to take on to help them understand the apprenticeship levy. 

And those relationships also help future students find places in the world of work. It was also adjusting its offer all the time to cater for those emerging sectors and building relationships with businesses to ensure it was delivering what they needed. 

It has a series of webinars lined up beginning in August with Zoom apprenticeship webinars for employers, has been staging virtual open days and will physically re-open to the brave new world in September. 

The bigger picture, said Mr Burgess, was not just about fire-fighting and building skills to help sectors re-grow. It was also about providing training to support the sectors which were skill-hungry now. 

“Some sectors, like cyber, are strong,” he said, more than a nod towards the college’s heavy investment in training, course and partnerships with both businesses and the mighty GCHQ. 

Headline measures announced by the Chancellor include a cash payment for employers to hire apprentices over the next six months. 

Which means from next month (August) to January 2021 a business taking on a young person aged between 16 and 24 will receive £2,000 and those hiring new apprentices over 25 will be aid £1,500. 

This money will be in addition to the £1,000 incentive already on the table for new 16 to 18 –year-old apprentices and those aged under 25 with an education, health and care plan. 

Which means businesses could receive up to £3,000 for hiring a 16 to 18-year-old apprentice during the six months of the scheme. 

Then there is the £2blln due to be provided as part of what Mr Sunak called a kickstart fund. Aimed at creating “hundreds of thousands of high quality” six-month work placements for 16 to 24 year olds. 

The scheme is mostly aimed at those on universal credit and those thought to be at highest risk of long-term unemployment. 

Businesses will receive 100 per cent of the relevant minimum wage by age group for a minimum of 25 hours a week, on the condition the firm can prove the jobs are ‘new’. 

Mr Sunak said the Government would pay the wages for six months “plus an amount to cover overheads”, which means a grant for a 24-year-old staff member would be around £6,500.