Calls to protect a generation of apprentices as claimant count rises

THE region’s leading business group is urging the Government to protect a generation of North East apprentices from the aftershocks of the recession.

 Speaking on the day that the latest official labour market data showed a mixed jobs picture, the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) said the region faces the real threat of endangering opportunities for 18 to 24-year-olds to make their first step onto the career ladder.

 The Office for National Statistics today released figures which showed employment up by 44,000 in the North East over the last year and unemployment dropping by 3,000 over the same period. The number of people claiming unemployment benefits has risen slightly after three static months.

 NECC has reminded the Government planned major public sector spending cuts will compound recruitment freezes and the impact of operational red tape to make it increasingly difficult for those aged 18 to 24 to find work. It believes ministers need to support and simplify the apprenticeship programme as a matter of urgency.

 NECC warns that a generation of young people could be left paying the price of the economic crash with lost training opportunities and wasted potential unless apprenticeships are opened up to a greater age range of young people who are struggling to find work.

 And in light of the economic strain on employers NECC wants to see the scheme made more flexible to allow apprentices to move between employers if they are made redundant – saving both parties wasted effort, time and costs.

 Ross Smith, head of policy and research at NECC, said: “Our research shows that employment among 18-24-year-olds in the North East fell by a worrying 5.1 percent between 2008 and 2009. This not only leaves the North East with the lowest employment rate for this age group outside of London, but represents the most dramatic fall in employment rates for any region.

 “Today’s job figures show a positive move for both employment and unemployment levels in the region which is heartening. But, this is dampened by the rise in the claimant count.

 “With these figures in mind and the specific recruitment issues thrown up by the economic climate we believe the apprenticeship programme is in need of urgent support from the Government. Incentives need to be provided to make it as easy as possible for employers to create apprenticeship places, the bureaucracy surrounding the current scheme needs to be eliminated and funding needs to be more flexible to include the 18-24-year-old age range.

 “Unless opportunities are opened up to help pick up some of the young people who are out of work because of the recession then they are going to be left to pay the price of the mistakes made by our generation.

 “We cannot allow young people to miss out on the excellent career opportunities that apprenticeships provide simply because of the year they happened to be born.”

 NEC C’s warning comes ahead of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review and was contained in its submission to the review.

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