Youth unemployment should be at the forefront of everyone’s agenda. Not only is that daunting first foray into the job market fresh in most people’s minds but without anybody priming the pump, the most talent-hungry businesses could be the ones to suffer. In light of this, one would think small businesses would be at the forefront of attempt to resolve the problem. Sadly it seems that this is not be the case: results from CIPD’s Learning to Work programmes found that just 58% of SMEs employed someone between the ages of 16 and 24, compared to 93% of larger organisations.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Overall, the number of young people employed in UK businesses is on the rise and has increased 6% to 79% in the last year. There’s also no lack of businesses sincerely trying to give young people the skills they need; the number of employers that offer apprenticeships has risen to 47%, up from 31% at the end of 2013. However, SMEs were significantly less likely than larger companies to offer an apprenticeship, with just 26% of SMEs with an apprenticeship scheme compared to 62% of larger businesses.
Many young people today seek work experience to help boost their employability; CIPD found that work experience was the most popular opportunity for youth employment that was currently being offered. But, again, it seems these placements are more attainable in larger corporations where two thirds offered some kind of work experience placement, compared to just 39% of SMEs. Small businesses also struggle to offer up graduate schemes, with the option available in only 11% of SMEs compared to 51% of larger employers.
Whilst many of these factors could be attributed to the size differences and budgets between SMEs and larger organisations, CIPD found that SMEs are less likely than their larger brethren to engage with young people in the local community. Only 38% of SMEs worked with local schools to arrange work place visits, offer work experience or give talks to students, compared to the 70% of larger employers who currently do this.
Katerina Rüdiger, head of volunteering and employability campaigns at the CIPD, said: “As a high proportion of jobs in the UK are created by SMEs, it’s essential that they are also equipped to bring in and nurture younger workers and have the information they need to create a clear youth engagement strategy. Only once they too are engaged with tackling youth unemployment can we be confident that the problem has been truly cracked.”
SMEs are often hailed the lifeblood of the economy and they need to be taking steps to help young people into employment. Certainly engaging with local schools and colleges and offering more work experience and apprenticeship placements would be an excellent first step.