Government should work harder to improve apprentices’ wages

With ever-increasing university tuition fees, it’s no wonder young people today are opting to try and join the workplace rather than continue on with university in which you have to dedicate three or four years of your life with no guarantee of a job or career at the end of it. The days of having to simply complete your degree and a well-paid job will be waiting for you are long over. In today’s competitive job market employees are emphasising the need for young people to have work experience, and a majority of them continually complain that young employees lack the right skills for the workplace, regardless of whether if they’re a graduate. Having a strong academic background is no longer enough and for some, continuing on with higher education is simply not for them. It’s understandable then that today’s youth are turning to apprenticeship schemes. Why not? You get to work and study at the same time without the burden of a heavy debt hanging over you, which you would have if you were to attend university. Also it’s likely that the company will offer you a full-time position at the end of it.

Photo by Jez S | Flickr

Photo by Jez S | Flickr

Apprenticeship schemes are however increasingly coming under controversy. Companies are being accused of exploiting workers as they use the scheme for access to cheap labour. Current laws in place state that the minimum wage for 16 to 18 and 19-year-olds, in the first year, is a mere £2.73 per hour resulting in lousy £95 for a 35 hour week. This doesn’t remotely cover travel, rent or food costs. All the main parties are advocates for the scheme with Ed Miliband recently pledging 80,000 apprenticeship schemes so those ‘without A-levels are not forgotten’. Politicians are eager to use the scheme to demonstrate they’re doing their bit for jobs for the young, lulling them into an amazing learn-as-you-earn-type scenario. However, when those signed up to the scheme discover their wage doesn’t even cover the basic cost of living, they’re forced to take on another job. Now essentially having to work two jobs, it’s a wonder they find the time to study at all.

Politicians encouraging the young to join apprenticeship schemes is their answer to those that don’t won’t to choose between one extreme where they give up on education and take that low paid menial job at Tesco, where they’ll most likely stay moving ever so slowly up the ladder, or the other extreme where they continue on with their education all the way up to university, with masses amounts of debts hanging over them.

If politicians are serious about supporting youth unemployment with this scheme they should enforce laws to ensure those on the scheme are not exploited. Companies should be forced to pay a reasonable wage and closely monitor those who continually violate the rules regarding minimum wage in relation to the scheme.

However, not all companies that offer apprenticeship schemes view it as a chance to access cheap labour. Some do view it as investing in the young and as a great way to train and eventually hire young workers who now know the ins and outs of the company. Those that consider the scheme need to do their homework on the company they’re considering working with.


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