Youth unemployment remains around 20% within the UK and across the OECD. A key challenge facing young people is that they are lacking the experience to enable them to successfully compete for jobs in a tight labour market.
It was for this reason exactly that a key facet of the EU2020 agenda for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth has been dedicated to the ‘Youth on the Move’ initiative which complements ‘The Agenda for New Skills and New Jobs’, aiming to make the transition to a young person’s first job an easier reality. Two programmes that Microsoft UK has launched in recent weeks seeks to address this by giving unemployed young people their first break.
Firstly, at the end of January Microsoft ran its first cohorts of its new work experience programme aimed at unemployed young people. Like many companies, Microsoft has provided work experience to people with contacts at the company, but this was the first time we have gone out to the local community, in partnership with unemployment charities, to target those young people who could most benefit from work experience.
The fifty young people over the first two weeks of the programme participated in a number of sessions aimed at building up their confidence, reliability, team working, problem solving, IT and persuasive communication skills. Over the course of the week long programme we had the privilege of seeing these hesitant, demoralised youngsters blossom into confident, capable and, most importantly, job ready young people.
We are already getting reports of some of our first group getting into jobs or courses. As only 12% of employers provide work experience to people without company contacts, we are working with other local employers to share our experience and encourage them to widen their work experience intake.
The other big event that the UK skills team has been involved in was the launch of National Apprenticeship Week with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the Business Secretary, Vince Cable. Apprenticeships are one of very few areas of Government spending and Microsoft was able to announce an additional 1,000 apprentices in its London partner network over the next three years.
Traditionally apprenticeships are associated with heavy engineering, but Microsoft has been instrumental in pioneering IT apprenticeships. Up to 1/3 of all roles in the UK IT sector could potentially be performed by advanced apprentices and apprenticeships will become a major route of entry into the industry for young people, sitting alongside the traditional graduate track.
The 300 apprentices taken on to date have been in technical support but this month Microsoft is expanding this to include technical sales and software development to reflect other areas of skills shortage in Microsoft partners.
The combination of classroom and on-the-job learning works well for many young people and the SME partners who hire them value the way in which they are able to shape what the apprentice learns. So the very lack of experience that often hampers young people is an asset for apprenticeships.
Crucially for economic development, 80% of Microsoft Partner Apprentices take up newly created job roles so apprenticeships are providing economic development as well as providing opportunities for young people.
You can follow the progress as the programme unveils here: http://www.microsoft.com/uk/britainworks/britainworks.aspx