Apprenticeships in the spotlight | FE Week

http://www.feweek.co.uk/2012/03/02/apprenticeships-in-the-spotlight/

Apprenticeships in the spotlight

Left to right - Select Committee witnesses: Alex Jackman, Forum of Private Business Denis Hird, JTL Training and Graham Hoyle, AELP

Left to right – Select Committee witnesses: Alex Jackman, Forum of Private Business Denis Hird, JTL Training and Graham Hoyle, AELP

Employer contributions and the ‘rebadging’ of former Train to Gain provision were both heavily debated at the first evidence session of the BIS Select Committee inquiry into apprenticeships.

The two hour session, held at Portcullis House in Westminster last Thursday, covered a wide range of issues about the funding, delivery and quality of the apprenticeship programme.

Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), Alex Jackman, senior policy adviser at the Forum of Private Business (FPB) and Denis Hird, chief executive of JTL Training, were called on by the committee to explain some of the growing issues in the sector.

Mr Hoyle said on the panel the issue of who paid for an apprenticeship was “a nettle yet to be fully grasped” and any changes in the funding system would need to consider the returns of all three beneficiaries; the learner, the employer and central government.

Mr Hoyle said: “The one we haven’t tackled yet is – what is it therefore the employers are paying if they’re getting a return?

“My own view is that they should be paying for the basic skill competencies.”

Mr Hird agreed that employer contributions were an issue that needed to be addressed both by the further education sector and central government.

“We need to understand what apprenticeships are, what is company training, what is company induction, what should be funded, what shouldn’t be funded and what employers contribute to,” Mr Hird said.

Earlier in the session Mr Hoyle said the apprenticeship programme should be owned by employers because it was in fact businesses, not government, who were paying for the majority of the delivery.

“We need to revisit who is paying for what within apprenticeships,” Mr Hoyle said.

“The prime contributors and payers at present time are employers – although we don’t put it in that way – with a contribution from the government.”

However, the AELP chief executive maintained that it should be the government’s responsibility to fund the educational elements of the apprenticeship framework to learners of all ages.

Mr Hoyle said: “My own view is that the government should be making sure that individuals are continued to be funded to get them up to a basic level of English, maths, literacy, numeracy and functional skills, so they can play a part in the labour market and get the transferable skills they need to move to the next employer.

“I believe the state have a reasonable responsibility to complete the education of those people.”

Members of the BIS Select Committee, led by Adrian Bailey MP, said they were worried government funding was being used to deliver training which would have otherwise been paid for by the employer.

David Ward, MP for Bradford East and a member of the BIS Select Committee, said: “I am a little bit worried about some of these apprentices, these older apprentices.

“The criticism that is there, which we referred to earlier, is that it’s just ongoing personal development and it’s not professional development.

We need to revisit who is paying for what within apprenticeships”

“If it’s personal development, it should just be happening anyway and why badge that with this apprenticeship title? That’s the thing I’m unsure about.”

Mr Ward then asked the panel to respond to the accusation that the record growth in apprenticeships could be attributed mostly to the conversion of Train to Gain delivery.

Mr Hird admitted that the ‘rebadging’ of Train to Gain courses, especially in the retail sector, had damaged the apprenticeship brand.

“I think what has been unfortunate is large volumes in the supermarket chain where they’ve badged up some of their induction programmes as apprenticeships to rack up the statistics,” Mr Hird said.

“Whilst I think that is good and I think the chap from Asda, who is actually an ex-work colleague of mine, he said whilst they had put 25,000 through he hadn’t created one extra job.”

Mr Jackman told FE Week it was unfair to blame large employers for taking advantage of government schemes which would help support their daily operations.

Speaking after the evidence session, the senior policy adviser highlighted the work of Barclays, a high street bank set to launch a new apprenticeship scheme in April for 1,000 people not in employment, education or training (NEET).

Perhaps most importantly, Mr Jackman said Barclays would be running the scheme without any government contributions.

Mr Jackman said: “At the end of the process the view being taken by Barclays is – if they move onto other banks, that is something they have contributed to the industry, but if they stay within Barclays themselves, then that’s something they’ve contributed towards their own business.”

Earlier in the session Mr Hoyle was quick to defend the negative remarks about Train to Gain, describing the scheme as being “rubbished too easily” during its existence.

The AELP chief executive said: “Train to Gain, despite much of what was written, was a very successful scheme at actually upskilling the adult workforce.

“That’s the view of myself, my members and the employers that worked with it.”

Mr Jackman also defended short duration apprenticeships during the evidence session, suggesting they be rebranded as “basic” or “entry” level apprenticeships.

After the session Mr Jackman told FE Week: “I think there is a mismatch at present between what a lot of employers consider to be an apprenticeship and what the government might consider to be an apprenticeship.

“But that is not to say that either of them are wrong.

“I think as long as you can ensure quality within courses which match up to what an apprenticeship is considered to be.

“As long as you ensure money isn’t being sucked away from SMEs, then I see no reason why some shorter apprenticeships should not be counted as such.”

Q&A with Denis Hird, CEO of JTL Training

You mentioned to the committee that you were disappointed with the 25,000 apprenticeship places created at Asda. Can you expand upon that?

First of all, I’m not being critical of Asda. There was huge pressure on the National Apprenticeship Service to raise the number of apprenticeships and so therefore if you look at how Asda is introducing young people into their business – they have a training programme, which I’m pretty sure is a good one knowing Asda – and that it’s been branded as an apprenticeship. And that’s to save money. I can’t blame Asda for doing that because it has met the targets. And that’s all good! Good for young people, good for Asda.

But what I think David Smith, the HR director of Asda was saying on national TV was that they would have spent the money and they were going to employ that 25,000. So in actual fact they haven’t created any extra jobs through that process.

Is there a concern that employers would have provided the training even if the apprenticeship funding hadn’t been available?

Absolutely. But you can’t blame Asda for taking the money and you can’t blame the National Apprenticeship Service because it lifted the statistics by 25,000. From our point of view, what it does is, it says that that short programme of training – and it’ll be very good and we need people to do those very good jobs that they do – is that it potentially erodes at the brand of our four year and two month programme at the top end of our electrotechnical and building services frameworks.

I’m not saying it is wrong, I’m saying it needs to be looked at in a different way about what is an apprenticeship and what isn’t, what are the various levels and what is the best use of government funding.

Would asking large employers to make a financial contribution to training help ensure there were new jobs and additional training?

I think that large employers can play a major role in giving opportunities for apprenticeships in work for young people. I think that the funding bodies, in particular the Skills Funding Agency, with advice as well from the National Apprenticeship Service, can work with those employers at what the best and most appropriate way is to use government funding in part of the strategic funding and plans for those large employers.

That’s a discussion that they should have. I don’t have a view other than it’s good news if it’s going to bring more people into apprenticeships and into jobs.

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Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

BBC News – Eurozone unemployment continues to rise

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17219160

Eurozone unemployment continues to rise

1 March 2012 Last updated at 11:31

Students and the unemployed take part in a protest against austerity cuts and lack of jobs in NaplesAusterity cuts and a lack of jobs have led to protests on the streets of Italy

The unemployment rate in the eurozone continued to rise in January, hitting another record high.

The jobless rate in the 17 countries that use the euro rose to 10.7% in January, while December’s figure was revised up from 10.4% to 10.6%.

There are now 16.9 million people out of work in the bloc, Eurostat said.

In Italy, the unemployment rate rose to 9.2% in January, the highest since monthly records began, the national statistics agency Istat said.

Italian unemployment had stood at 8.9% in December, but it is now at the highest rate since the first quarter of 2001, as the country finds itself in a second recession in four years.

Spain continues to have the highest unemployment rate in the euro area at 23.3%, while Austria has the lowest at 4%.

‘Huge divergence’

In its latest unemployment report, Eurostat said the unemployment rate in the 27 EU countries reached 10.1% in January, with a total of 24.3 million people out of work.

December’s jobless rate was also revised up from 9.9% to 10%.

The data comes a day after the European Central Bank (ECB) said it had provided a further 530bn euros ($713bn; £448bn) of low-interest loans to 800 banks across the EU.

The announcement appeared to have been welcomed by the market, with banking shares rising strongly on Wednesday.

But Steen Jakobsen, chief economist at Saxo Bank, said: “Despite the euphoria in the banking sector following the ECB’s loan programme, the real economy remains very depressed and the key factor is the unemployment rate, both socially and because of the damage to growth.

“If you look at Spain’s unemployment rate, it is up two percentage points in January and even Italy’s rate continues to rise, so I am concerned that we really are lacking the fundamental reforms needed for growth.

“There’s a huge divergence between the feelgood factor in the stock market and what’s happening in the real economy. For all the money the ECB is printing, there isn’t yet a big boost for companies in terms of credit.”

‘Double whammy’

Meanwhile, separate data from Eurostat showed that inflation in the euro area rose to 2.7% in February, rising slightly from 2.6% in January.

It marks the 15th month in a row that inflation has been above the ECB’s target of just below 2%.

Howard Archer, chief European economist at IHS Global Insight, said it amounted to a “double whammy of bad news” for the eurozone.

“This is particularly bad news for consumers, as they are not only facing high and rising unemployment, but also still squeezed purchasing power,” he said.

“It had been hoped that eurozone consumer price inflation would be heading down markedly by now, but these hopes are being scuppered by high oil prices.”

The data comes ahead of a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels, where they are set to discuss growth and jobs.

Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

HR Magazine – Making the most of your apprentices

http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hro/features/1020939/making-apprentices

Making the most of your apprentices

As we start looking through the candidates’ CVs, I started to think how important it is that both the potential entrant and the recruiting organisation put sufficient time and effort into the selection process, to make the most of the scheme.

We have been running our nationwide programme since 2010, as engineering skills are essential to our business. We make sure that our apprentices learn the vital skills that work best for our organisation, through a mix of on-the-job training, classroom learning and other development opportunities. So far we have taken on fourteen apprentices and we have just begun our search for even more budding engineers.

It’s so important to make sure you recruit the right people; you will invest a lot in them over the course of the training. Before you start, think about the type of candidate that will help to take the business forward. Apprentices need to demonstrate, in their application, that they have a willingness to take responsibility, a desire to progress and a sense of loyalty. This means they need to have researched the market as well as your business, knowing exactly why they want to work for you. Finding people who have the potential to progress through the company means that, one day, they could end up running it. When recruiting, it’s also important to remember that, as well as attracting outside talent, apprenticeships can open up a new career path to existing employees, increasing staff motivation and retention.

One of the major benefits of an apprenticeship scheme is that, when structured well, it tailors experience to your business’ exact needs. In addition, you can train people in skills that may be few in the market, and developing them on-site means that you align them closely to your business’ way of working.

For both the new recruit and the organisation, it’s important to combine both on and off the job training. The requirements of the scheme need to be clear, including various activities and modules within the programme and providing exposure to different areas and people within the business. Marking progress, with clear milestones to be achieved over the course of the programme is also important, as is a defined support network of people to help recruits build their confidence. At Britvic, we give each apprentice a technical buddy and business mentor, which provide access to networks of people in similar situations. We have regular development days and social events where apprentices are encouraged to share their experiences in an informal environment.

It’s important to think of apprentices in the long term; not just their initial training period. Those who meet your performance expectations must have a job at the end of the programme and a clear idea of how they will fit into the business moving forwards. Letting an apprentice go at the end of their training sends a very poor message about how your business values its people; it’s a two way investment of time and commitment. The Warwick Institute of Employment Research shows that the time required for employers to recoup their investment is between two and three years. Keep checking in with your employees, making sure they continue to be happy and inspired. Monitor the work they are contributing to and you will see firsthand the positive investment which they bring to the business.

Sue Skinner (pictured), director of HR delivery at Britvic

Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

Government urged to secure future of Tees Valley apprenticeship scheme (From The Northern Echo)

http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/business/9561634.Government_urged_to_secure_future_of_Tees_Valley_apprenticeship_scheme/

Government urged to secure future of Tees Valley apprenticeship scheme

8:00am Thursday 1st March 2012 in North-East Business News Photograph of the Author By Andy Richardson

MINISTERS will decide later this month if a scheme that’s kick-started careers for hundreds of Tees Valley youngsters gets a cash injection to secure its future.

After putting their case to Skills Minister John Hayes in Westminster a delegation of the regions business and political leaders voiced hopes that the Tees Valley Apprenticeship Programme (TVAP) will survive and have an even bigger impact region-wide.

The TVAP, which runs out of cash at the end of this month, (March 2012) has been credited with creating and safeguarding almost 300 apprenticeships in the area over the last two years at a cost to the taxpayer of about £1.8m.

Mr Hayes heard how a further injection of a similar amount of public money will allow the scheme to be extended across the wider North- East, and also to become self-sustaining in two years time.

The employer-led TVAP is managed through the National Skills Academy for the Process Industries (NSAPI), which is based in Darlington. It led to 134 Tees Valley employers being persuaded to take on apprentices. Those involved included high profile businesses in the chemicals industries, as well as 80 small and medium-sized companies, including Cordell, CA Pumps Limited and Intellect UK, 43 of whom had never taken on an apprentice before.

TVAP chairman George Ritchie, senior vice president for human resources with Sembcorp Industries and chair of the North-East regional ambassadors of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) led the delegation to London.

The party included representatives from the process sector: Dr Stan Higgins, chief executive of NEPIC, and Ian Mains, business development director of NSAPI, alongside Allan Wallace, employer services director of NAS and Heather Smithson of NSAPI who is also project director of TVAP.

They were supported at the meeting by a cross party delegation of local MPs who set aside political rivalries to hail the success of the apprenticeship programme.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, Labour’s Shadow Business Minister, led the politicians who included Redcar Lib Dem Ian Swales, Middlesbrough South and East Clevelands Tom Blenkinsop and Stockton Norths Alex Cunningham; both Labour MPs.

Mr Hayes told the delegates they should hear within the next five weeks whether their bid for additional funding had been successful.

Mr Ritchie said: “The Minister was very gracious with his time and he and his team listened intently to what we had to say. He was clearly extremely impressed with the success of the scheme in an area where jobs creation is absolutely vital and we showed him how this fits the Governments agenda on apprenticeships perfectly.

“The thrust of our case was that there is a real opportunity to build on TVAPs success and firmly cement the idea into employers minds that apprenticeships like this, which give young people fantastic skills, are producing people who have the ability to grow their businesses. “Many of those on the TVAP scheme have now been taken on as full time employees by their sponsoring companies because they are bringing real value to those businesses.

“That message is particularly important for those employers who perhaps dont have access to the support resources that bigger businesses have or the same confidence to take on an apprentice.

“The smaller and medium-sized firms who have engaged in this process have in fact become the best ambassadors for apprenticeships, particularly those who have never had an apprentice before, and we know they can be extremely influential over the next few years in persuading others throughout the wider region to display the same faith in our young people as we have in the Tees Valley.”

Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

Barclays launch 1,000 apprenticeships to tackle youth unemployment

http://m.myfinances.co.uk/savings/2012/03/01/barclays-launch-1-000-apprenticeships-to-tackle-youth-unempl

Barclays launch 1,000 apprenticeships to tackle youth unemployment

Thursday, 1 March 2012 5:27 PM

Barclays has announced a £20 million programme that it is offering 1,000 new apprenticeships to young people with no prior experience or qualifications.

Barclays has launched an apprenticeship programme for 1,000 young people

Barclays has launched an apprenticeship programme for 1,000 young people

Barclays Apprenticeship Programme is open from today and is designed to give young people their first crucial opportunity to carve out a career in banking. The first successful applicants will begin working from the end of April.

The offer is open to join Barclays Retail or Business Banking divisions and applicants can apply through the National Apprenticeship Service website.

New apprentices will be paid an entrance level salary, receive dedicated training, support and mentoring and be given the chance to progress to a permanent position.

Trainees will work towards receiving a qualification in financial services similar to an NVQ. They could also pass qualifications in numeracy and literacy and receive a BTEC award.

Opportunities will be available in London, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Sunderland, Birmingham, Northampton and Coventry.

Antony Jenkins, Chief Executive of Barclays Retail and Business Banking, said: “Britain faces a real challenge with many young people who have potential and want to work but are currently struggling to get their first job opportunity.”

The roles on offer range across providing services to customers in Barclays’ branches as well the its operational and contact centres.

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Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

BBC News – Minister Mike Russell details post-16 learners plan

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-17209829

Minister Mike Russell details post-16 learners plan

29 February 2012 Last updated at 16:59

From Democracy Live: Education Secretary Mike Russell gives a ministerial statement on Post-16 reform

The Scottish government’s apprenticeship schemes for young people will be extended as part of bid to improve post-16 education.

The move was announced by Education Secretary Mike Russell at Holyrood.

He said technical and professional apprenticeships would be introduced later in the year to run alongside the existing modern apprenticeship scheme.

Labour’s Hugh Henry said he was disappointed with Mr Russell’s statement, saying it lacked detail.

He told the chamber that while he shared the minister’s aspirations for learners in Scotland, he said there was absolutely “no detail about what is going to be done”.

Mr Russell addressed MSPs about his plans to “make it easier for students to progress through education”.

His government consulted on a programme of reform for 16-plus education, with the publication of Putting Learners at the Centre in September 2011.

Mr Russell’s statement was in response to that consultation.

The proposals included;

  • advanced apprenticeship frameworks to help employers develop staff to degree level will be introduced from 1 April, 2012
  • preparing learners for work and giving them the tools they need to be productive and stay in employment
  • make it much easier for young people who are at college to progress through to university

The SNP politician also reiterated his commitment to college and university mergers.

He told MSPs: “These changes go hand in hand with our college regionalisation strategy where colleges will have a stronger strategic role in meetings the needs of learners in their region.

“In order to do so they will need to increase co-operation between institutions to provide the best learning experience and range of options for all young people once they leave school.”

‘Bitterly partisan’

Labour’s education spokesman Mr Henry asked Mr Russell to reconsider his “decision to force through significant changes to college the structure while having to cope with large scale budget cut”.

He went on to urge the minister to abandon centralised control over education and reverse cuts to career service staffing.

In his reply to Mr Henry, the minister said his proposals did contain detail and he regretted that the opposition MSP could not be more positive. He asked Mr Henry not to be “bitterly partisan” and to join the government in improving 16-plus education.

The Tories Liz Smith said she wanted clarity over Mr Russell’s plans to promote and extend the use of the Scottish Baccalaureate in advanced highers.

The education secretary said he supported the baccalaureate and he was keen to see a range and depth of qualifications improve in Scottish education.

Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

BIS Committee reveals apprenticeship inquiry itinerary for Sheffield | FE Week

http://www.feweek.co.uk/2012/02/29/bis-committee-reveals-apprenticeship-inquiry-itinerary-for-sheffield/

BIS Committee reveals apprenticeship inquiry itinerary for Sheffield

The itinerary for the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s visit to Sheffield next week has been revealed.

As part of their major inquiry into apprenticeships, the cross-party committee will visit Sheffield on Monday, March 5 and Tuesday, March 6.

During the visit, committee members will visit Forgemasters and the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (ARMC).

They will also be holding a formal session on March 6 at the ARMC.

The chairman of the Committee, Adrian Bailey MP, said: “Dr Adam Posen of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee today made clear that he feels the biggest failure in the UK labour market at the moment is in the area of youth unemployment.

“Apprenticeships are a vital tool if we are to address this shortcoming.

“Apprenticeships can help equip young people throughout the UK with the skills necessary to drive forward broad and sustained economic growth, spread across a range of sectors and across the entire country.

“If the Committee’s inquiry is to have the desired effect, we need to look at what is working and where the current structure is falling short, not only for companies running apprenticeship schemes but for apprentices themselves.

“Sheffield is home to a number of significant organisations and employers offering innovative and meaningful apprenticeship schemes.

“This visit will allow the Committee to gain first-hand experience of how these schemes are operating in practice and takes evidence from a wide range of interested parties.”

The news comes ahead of the Committee’s first formal evidence session, which takes place tomorrow from 11am at The Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

Witnesses include Denis Hird, chief executive of JTL Training, Alex Jackman, a senior policy officer for the Forum of Private Business, and Graham Hoyle, the chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP).

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Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

Youth NEET Contract Scheme – Raising employability through employers » InspireEducation

http://www.i2e-education.co.uk/2012/02/youth-neet-contract-raising-employment-through-employers/

Youth NEET Contract Scheme – Raising employability through employers

So a further £126 million is being offered to businesses, charities and social enterprises to help re-engage 55,000 16-17 years olds who are NEET?

This figure is in addition to the £1b Youth Contract which, in turn, adds to the £3-5b Work Programme.

So what exactly is the “Ticking Time Bomb” as Nick Clegg so deftly put it? There are now an approximate 1.04million young people (age 16-24) who are not in employment, education or training; a figure which is growing and does not seem to be showing any signs of improvement. The Youth Contract Scheme is an initiative that hopes to help some of the harder to reach young people.

Referring to research on youth unemployment the government is concerned that “if young people lose the ambition, hope and optimism about working then they are likely to suffer long-term scarring effects”

The intention of this initiative is to encourage businesses, charities and social enterprises to take on 16-17 year olds who are disengaged and support them by developing their employability skills. This is designed to give them a chance to gain some valuable work experience in order to enhance their CV and work experiences.

If done well this initiative could make a difference to the lives and experiences of these young people. However, it has to be said that this is very reactive and does not actually get to the heart of the issue or provide any longer term strategic solutions..

Through the education bill the government removed the statutory provision for Careers Education, so that schools could choose what experiences their students have of the working world. Schools have the responsibility to deliver a bespoke curriculum based on the needs of their learners but have been given no financial support to do this at a time of austerity and budget cuts.

There is clear evidence that good work experience and good careers education can help young people to be motivated and prepared for the world of work. So, on one hand we remove the entitlement, only to be seen to give it back ten-fold. I am a little confused and think that I may not be the only one.

If we invested money and statutory responsibility in relevant and motivational careers education (by relevant I mean in line with economy and business voice), in ensuring every child developed literacy and numeracy skills, in helping schools to embrace their local employers and deliver a curriculum in partnership with the world of work then maybe the youth contract would have more substance and be much more focused on the needs that most people seem to be agreed upon.

Government rhetoric keeps telling us that they need to ‘boost the economy’. Surely having a skilled, motivated, literate workforce would make a significant contribution?

If you would like to listen to a BBC Northampton radio interview with Inspire2Exceed director, Laura-Jane Rawlings, talking about the recent Youth Contract initiative, click the play button below:

InspireEducation can support businesses looking to tender for the NEET Youth Contract – Click HERE for more information

BBC News – Ministers drop work experience scheme sanctions

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17200688?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Ministers drop work experience scheme sanctions

29 February 2012 Last updated at 17:49

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Nick Clegg MP: Work scheme critics have “messed-up priorities”

Ministers have dropped the threat of sanctions for unemployed youngsters on a controversial work experience scheme.

It follows a meeting with dozens of firms with concerns, after criticism it amounted to “unpaid forced labour”.

Some employers had pulled out of the scheme – in which 16- to 24-year-olds on jobseeker’s allowance do up to eight weeks’ unpaid work but keep benefits.

It is voluntary but those who dropped out after the first week risked having their benefits docked for a fortnight.

The government says that only 220 cases out of 34,200 people taking part between January and the end of November 2011 were sanctioned, and mostly for misconduct, not for dropping out.

But following Wednesday’s meeting with firms and charities, it said that rule would be dropped – although sanctions would still apply in cases of gross misconduct.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said it would help companies but insisted that critics were “completely misguided”.

Critics say the scheme amounted to “unpaid forced labour” for many young unemployed people and the Right to Work campaign group had led protests – including a sit-in at a Tesco store.

‘Trotskyites’

The work experience programme is one of a range of placement schemes run under the government’s “Get Britain Working” policy.

It allows unemployed youngsters to accept short-term work experience placements, which were unpaid but could include travel or childcare expenses, and keep their benefits.

But those who dropped out of the scheme after a probationary period of one week could have had their benefits docked for two weeks.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron said 200 small- and medium-sized companies had expressed an interest in joining the scheme in recent days.

He urged firms to “stand up against the Trotskyites” protesting against it.

And Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said protesters were “completely out of touch” and the scheme was “brilliant”, adding: “People volunteer to do it and we have a queue of kids desperate to do it.”

Chief executive of Barnardo’s Anne Marie Carrie, who was at the meeting on Wednesday, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “We discussed frankly what has gone wrong in public perception about this scheme.

“Work experience is a vital lifeline for some of the most disadvantaged young people in this country. They’ve been failed by the education system, they’ve been failed by the care system and they cannot easily find employment in this tough climate.”

‘Free labour’

She said she was “delighted” at the news that the sanctions would be dropped as she was worried that they could threaten the future of the scheme.

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SWP’s Michael Bradley on Tesco and McDonald’s work experience protests

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said he welcomed the government’s “climbdown” on the issue – and making clear that work experience was voluntary would help safeguard against it being used for “free labour for employers”.

And John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said short work experience placements were a “critical” part of finding a job for thousands of youngsters: “The biggest sanction anyone could face is losing the opportunity to gain experience in the world of work, and this announcement will ensure businesses continue to have the confidence to offer these opportunities.”

But Mark Dunk, an activist from the Right to Work campaign, said it was “one battle won but the wider fight goes on”.

“Forced unpaid work still continues in the form of the mandatory work activity and community activity programme… There should not be any young person anywhere forced to work for no pay. Everyone on any training scheme should receive minimum wage or above.”

Burger King, bookshop Waterstones and electrical retailer Maplin have left the scheme, while Sainsbury’s says individual stores which took part are no longer doing so, as it is not company policy.

Tesco says it will start to pay those on work experience and guarantee a job when placements go well, and baker Greggs says it does not want people to lose benefits if they fail to complete their placements.

Fashion chain Matalan has suspended its involvement pending a review.

For Labour, shadow employment minister Stephen Timms said he backed the theory behind the scheme – but said there was a “complete muddle about whether this is a voluntary scheme or not because job centres are telling people it’s compulsory”.

In a separate development, Boots has stopped some of its stores participating in a different scheme – the government’s flagship work programme – aimed at helping the long-term unemployed find jobs. Some stores had been approached locally to provide placements but would no longer be doing so, it said.

Boots said under the terms of the scheme people could lose benefits if they refused to join or did not fully comply, which was in breach of its company policy never to participate in schemes which compel people to work.

Hiring graduates with best degrees from top universities ‘could be discrimination against average students’ | Mail Online

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2107543/Hiring-graduates-best-degrees-universities-discrimination-average-students.html

Don’t bother getting a good degree: Now PC brigade says bosses shouldn’t just hire best students as it ‘discriminates against average graduates’

By Emma Reynolds

Last updated at 1:00 PM on 28th February 2012

Companies hiring graduates with top degrees could be discriminating against students with average grades, according to a Government-commissioned review.

Jobs that require applicants to have a minimum qualification of a 2:1 degree may prevent firms meeting diversity targets, the report said.

Many sought-after positions – particularly in the corporate sector – require a certain standard of academic achievement and even attendance at a certain set of universities.

Future uncertainty: Firms may not meet diversity targets if they require applicants to have a minimum of a 2:1 degree (file picture)

Future uncertainty: Firms may not meet diversity targets if they require applicants to have a minimum of a 2:1 degree (file picture)

But the review for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said the system was ‘flawed’.

Professor Tim Wilson, who carried out the review, said: ‘A filter that limits
recruitment to a particular set of universities, a “2-1 standard” and a defined UCAS entry threshold to the corporate sector are not uncommon requirements.

‘In the context of reducing the applications to manageable proportions this is understandable, but it has flaws.’

He said companies who filter on academic achievement need to carry out regular reviews of their screening processes, based on the types of graduates they have hired.

‘An algorithm that includes a profiling filter may reduce the selection task to manageable proportions and hence an acceptable cost, but it also has the potential to exclude graduates with skills profiles that are appropriate to company needs.

‘Graduate recruiters using filtering mechanisms should undertake a systematic and frequent review of screening algorithms in the light of the qualities of the graduates that the company has recruited and the diversity objectives of the company.’

You're hired: Vince Cable said the Government will now 'carefully consider' the recommendations
You're hired: Vince Cable said the Government will now 'carefully consider' the recommendations from Professor Tim Wilson, pictured

You’re hired: Business secretary Vince Cable, left, said the Government will now ‘carefully consider’ the recommendations by Professor Tim Wilson, right

He added that the recruitment cycle is normally undertaken before graduation, so the degree classification is projected, not actual.

This may minimise the cost risk, he added, but not necessarily manage the risk of diversity imbalance.

The review said that many employers were concerned about not attracting the right mix of graduates and that companies were often not doing enough to communicate with prospective candidates.

Sir Tim made 54 recommendations, including a number on how to encourage more so-called ‘sandwich’ degrees which involve some form of work, and ways of increasing internships.

He said that where internships are unpaid, universities should use funds they receive from the office for Fair Access, which encourages students from poorer backgrounds to go to university, to support eligible youngsters rather than condone a policy that could ‘inhibit social mobility’.

He suggested universities should only charge students on a work placement year £1,000 rather than the permitted maximum of £4,500, and interest charges on student loans should be suspended.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said the world’s best universities were building deeper links with business, adding that the Government will now ‘carefully consider’ the report’s recommendations.

The conclusions are likely to increase fears the professions are dumbing down in order to widen access and concerns this could damage Britain’s already unstable economy.

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