Through all the turbulence of the last few years, it is school leavers who need the most support.
Their education has been disrupted, good quality jobs are at a premium, and many risk being left behind.
Now look at school leavers in some of the UK’s most deprived areas and the barriers intensify. What are we left with? More young people looking for jobs and an increasing youth unemployment rate.
Looking ahead: Tesco chief executive Ken Murphy believes school leavers need more support
This is a societal issue that needs to be addressed through the combined effort of business and government – and retail plays a crucial role in that.
Retail is one of the UK economy’s proudest meritocracies – it doesn’t matter who you are, where you live or what your background is, you can go from shopfloor to boardroom with determination, ambition and drive.
It’s also one of the UK’s strongest industries – and it’s high time government listened to how it can help unlock the potential in our young people, right across the country.
The apprenticeship levy is restrictive and impractical, if well intentioned. And my opinions are not unique. The British Retail Consortium, the industry body, recently described the levy as ‘outdated’ and ‘broken’.
If reforms had been made when we first started asking for them five years ago, we would have recruited an additional 2,500 apprentices in Tesco alone.
For scale, that is enough high-quality jobs to fully staff every Tesco store in Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt’s constituencies five-times over. It would also be a 50 per cent increase to our overall apprenticeship programme.
This is important and we are pressing ahead, with or without Government support.
Backing: Getting young people into work should be a priority for the government, Ken Murphy says
Today, we are launching our new Stronger Starts apprenticeship for 16–18-year-olds.
Stronger Starts is about making a positive difference in communities and this apprenticeship is aimed at students that are struggling and desperately need support.
It’s our first apprenticeship that requires no education qualifications and can give young people the equivalent of 5 GCSEs.
Entry level apprenticeships are proven to improve skills and typically raise pay by 20 per cent within four years at Tesco.
But poorly designed Government policy means we can’t offer enough of them. We can only offer 150 Stronger Starts Apprenticeships, when we know there will be demand for so many more.
To date we have put in more than £100million to the Apprenticeship Levy but according to the Government, our new Stronger Starts apprenticeship barely qualifies for levy funds.
In fact, since 2017 a combined £2billion of levy funds have been returned, unused, to Treasury and the number of entry level apprentices has plummeted.
As politicians put pen to paper on their manifestos, I hope that helping young people get into work is top of their agenda and if they finally start listening to retailers – they’ll see we have some practical ways to help bridge the gap between education and employment.
The social and economic imperative is clear. Reform is a win-win for workers, business and the economy.
So, if government is serious about levelling up the country, helping people into skilled, secure employment and driving growth after two difficult years of inflation, then now is the time for a clear statement of intent.