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With almost one in five young people out of work, youth unemployment is the focus of growing concern in Britain. It is a phenomenon affecting school leavers and graduates alike, and these figures, alarming as they are, actually mask the severity of the problem: A parallel trend of increasing underemployed is emerging, with 40 per cent of those saddled with debt from student loans taking on low-paid jobs for which they are overqualified.

Youth unemployment in Britain hit 21.9 per cent in March 2012, according to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), up from 13.6 per cent in December 2007. Over the same period, youth unemployment in the European Union climbed from 15.1 per cent to 22.6 per cent, the worst-hit countries being Greece and Spain, now with over 50 per cent of their youth labour force unemployed. Turkey, bucking this trend, saw a decrease in youth unemployment over this period, going from 17.1 per cent unemployment in 2007 down to 15.4 per cent this year.

Last week, a European Commission press release stated that “the dramatically high youth unemployment rates in Europe call for immediate action by Member States. One of the priorities for action is to ensure a smooth school-to-work transition for young people.”

European Commissioner of Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion László Andor said: “The European Council has underlined the importance of apprenticeships and traineeships for young people. ... Apprenticeships and traineeships can build bridges for young people to enter the labour market and so help to tackle Europe’s excessive levels of youth unemployment. But such apprenticeships and traineeships must ensure that youngsters are given the best possible chance of getting a sustainable job afterwards.”

There has been negative media coverage of some apprenticeship schemes in Britain recently. A parliamentary committee questioned the length and quality of many apprenticeships in May, with the Committee of Public Accounts concluding that a fifth of the schemes lasted six months or less and were of “no real benefit”. Weekly Zaman contacted the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), which told us of the government’s recently announced plans to drive up the quality of all apprenticeships, including the introduction of a 12-month minimum duration for all apprenticeships, and actions to ensure that every apprenticeship meets rigorous standards.

Government plans for the introduction of thousands of new higher apprenticeships (up to degree equivalency) are set to narrow the skills gap evident in the labour markets, while NAS is now offering up to 40,000 apprenticeship grants to small and medium-sized businesses (employing less than 250 employees), to the value of 1,500 pounds, that recruit their first apprentice aged 16 to 24.

Weekly Zaman spoke to Spencer Fearn, managing director of LifeSkills, a company helping young people make the transition into work. The company was formed in 2002, originally as a music training provider in Bethnal Green, East London. The purpose of delivering music was to engage young people, and it worked extremely well in the early days, as it does today. In the last 10 years LifeSkills has grown and now has 11 sites across England working with around 2,000 learners at any one time, running a variety of different programmes, including Foundation Learning courses for unemployed 16 to 24 year olds and apprenticeship schemes.

Fearn told Weekly Zaman: “The way we do apprenticeships is we actually source the employer for the young person. It’s extremely difficult when you’re 16, 17 or even 18 years of age and you’ve not got life experience to actually get your foot through the door. So we actually do that for the young people. ... We help create jobs, we pick up the apprenticeship, we work with the young person. ... It’s a model that we do across the land -- it’s extremely successful in areas such as Rotherham. Since LifeSkills came to Rotherham two years ago, the youth unemployment figures have dropped.”

LifeSkills also have many accolades, including numerous outstanding grades from Ofsted, such as equality and diversity, continuous improvement, meeting the needs and interests of learners and partnership working. Fearn said, “Even though other training providers are our competitors, it’s important to us that we are partners with them as we want to give young people in the area the best possible opportunity to access education, whether it’s in our schools or with another provider.”

LifeSkills is also a Sunday Times top 100 companies to work for, and has been for the last four years. Fearn explained the success of his company, saying: “We’re very big on staff engagement and giving people, all 140 of us, in the business a voice in how the business runs. It’s common sense, really, that if staff are happy they’re going to give a better service to the learners who come through the door, and that’s the principle that we’ve worked on from day one, really.

“We have specialist courses such as boxing programmes, which we do up in the north, where we have 45 young people working towards sports qualifications. So we link sport and education together and we do more popular occupational areas -- things like administration, retail, customer service, warehousing. We give the learners a service, and we give the employers a service as well by providing them with young people who are keen to learn, and some who aren’t so keen to learn. But it’s our job to make sure they are, and tell them how life is, and work on confidence and work on the basics of life -- things like manners -- your pleases and your thank yous -- are extremely important. How you answer a telephone, how you greet people -- all these skills that people don’t seem to be taught at school and, without those, they’re not going to go very far.”

LifeSkills courses vary in length, with apprentices coming in for around 4 weeks and Foundation Learning youth and employment programmes running from 24 to 26 weeks. Fearn stated: “A lot of it, I believe, with young people is about giving them confidence. If they can see that somebody at LifeSkills believes in them, they will start to believe in themselves.

“Unfortunately, for whatever reason, some young people at home aren’t given the confidence to progress with their lives, and that’s what we’re about. It’s not just the academia side; it’s about building them as people and giving them the skills so they can progress.”

For more information on LifeSkills, visit or e-mail


“For any company considering investing in an Apprentice I would recommend the services of LifeSkills for efficient placement of candidates who are eager and fit for purpose. Although lacking in experience, (as you would expect) the young people we have welcomed into the business over the last 3+ years have turned out to be hardworking, great learners and keen to impress. Attitude is everything as they say and if you can hire that, then it’s a great start! Thank you Hadleigh and the team for your support in helping our business invest in future talent.”

Maria Elliott, HR Manager
Maher Limited

Maria Elliott