Leading HR directors have thrown their weight behind the government’s Backing Young Britain campaign, urging employers to invest in 16 to 24-year-olds despite the tough economic climate.
This week prime minister Gordon Brown launched the scheme, aimed at creating 85,000 work opportunities for young people.
The number of 18 to 24-year-olds out of work now stands at 722,000.
So far, 150 employers have signed up to the scheme, including supermarket giant Morrisons, which has pledged to train all 40,000 of its 16 to 24-year-old retail employees to NVQ Level 2 by spring 2011.
There are also 5,000 new opportunities, including apprenticeships from firms such as Centrica and Royal Mail.
Carl Johnson, head of leadership and development at maintenance and building group Interserve, told Personnel Today it was important for employers to keep up momentum during the recession and not to shy away from creating opportunities for young people.
“The plan is to try to encourage businesses to focus their resources and create energy around bringing people into business,” he said. “This is one of the challenges that we face in a downturn.”
Jo Taylor, head of learning and talent at Channel 4, agreed. “Having relationships with the next generation of talent is critical to business growth and potential recruitment in the future,” she said.
Norman Pickavance, group HR director at Morrisons, said: “Young people are crucial as part of the broad spectrum of colleagues we employ – now is the time for all companies to pledge their support to Backing Young Britain.”
Business secretary Lord Mandelson described the package of support as a win-win situation.
“Work experience, offering internships to graduates and investing in skills and training are vital to equipping young people and businesses with the tools to come out of the downturn in a strong position,” he said.
But a Conservative spokesman questioned how many of the training opportunities would be offered to people out of work. “[The campaign] should not be used as a smokescreen to mask true figures,” he said.
The Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that ministers were drawing up a ‘back to work’ White Paper, which is expected to give more details on how unemployment is hitting the economy, and measures to tackle the problem.
But a spokeswoman could not provide details of when the paper would be published.