The article below was written by Damian and published in this week's Petersfield Post and Herald editions:
"The news last week that more than 120,000 positions had been created through the government-funded Kickstart Scheme since its launch in September, was good to hear. I hope it will prove pivotal in changing the lives of thousands of young people now able to take up these opportunities.
The £2 billion scheme is part of the wider ‘Plan for Jobs’ and enables employers to offer young people between 16 and 24 who are on Universal Credit a six-month work placement that is fully funded. And it is now easier for companies of all sizes to apply as from February the minimum threshold of 30 vacancies will no longer apply.
Under the scheme, the government will pay 100 per cent of the young person’s age-relevant National Minimum Wage, National Insurance and pension contributions for 25 hours a week, which the employer can top up if they choose to. In addition, the employer will be eligible for a payment of £1,500 per Kickstarter taken on, so helping to cover any associated set up costs.
The County Council has already submitted applications for 128 placements, including a number of places in East Hants, both for themselves and with external employers. The first will start later this month. HCC is putting in place a careers and skills package to help participants progress towards sustained employment after the six-month placement period. And they offer information and help to interested employers – search ‘Hampshire kickstart’ online.
Other schemes pay businesses £1,000 to take on trainees, and £2,000 for each new apprentice they hire aged 25 or under. Together, it’s a strong commitment not only to help people find new opportunities, but also to help businesses expand their workforce at a time that is so difficult for many.
The theme for National Apprenticeship Week this year is ‘Build the Future: Train, Retain and Achieve”. It will be celebrated throughout next week. The campaign will showcase the benefits of apprenticeships. It’s both about how they help individuals develop relevant skills and knowledge, but also how they enable employers to build for the future.
Businesses have been forced to adapt in ways they could scarcely have imagined twelve months ago; some developing new ways to trade online, others finding new opportunities in lockdown, and some of course have had to close temporarily. And that is why the furlough and self-employment schemes have been so important, along with access to sector-based grants and government-backed loan schemes.
I was struck by a recent exchange with a constituent who runs GKS Design, a bespoke furniture business. The fledgling company found itself faced with an immediate hit to its order book at the start of the pandemic, despite healthy trading in the previous quarter. Being able to make use of the furlough scheme and access a Bounce Back Loan has enabled the company to make it through this difficult period, and re-build a healthy order book. GKS has now taken on a full-time fitter as well as an apprentice, and is ready to recruit for another full-time role.
Manufacturing businesses have also often had to re-think their operations in response to the pandemic. Petersfield-based Morgan Innovation is just one such company who found their normal business impacted, yet has been able to secure a contract in the covid vaccine supply chain, and is taking on more people to meet the demand, and hoping to make use of the Kickstart Scheme.
With the vast majority of businesses employing fewer than 10 people, we know how important small businesses are to both the national and local economy. And these are often the enterprises that can most benefit from the extra resource of a trainee, apprentice or even a Kickstarter, and I would encourage any local business to consider the schemes if they have can offer someone the invaluable opportunity to learn.
The pandemic will undoubtedly re-shape some sectors and expand others, and we know there will continue to be demand in areas such as engineering, construction and social care. The government is investing more than £100 million to help 18 and 19 year olds take high value courses at Levels 2 and 3 where work opportunities are not available, and is expanding the support through Job Centres and the National Careers Service to help people find employment.
As we look forward to a time when more of normal life will resume, it is right that supporting people into work must be a priority as part of our national effort to build a stronger economy for the future."