The extension of the Kickstart and Jets schemes could help create jobs for thousands who are at risk of long-term unemployment, but more publicity is needed if they’re to be successful, writes Rhys Wyborn.
While the “cliff edge” of mass unemployment that many commentators feared would happen hasn’t so far materialised, the winding down of government support, such as furlough, does risk causing a spike in those out of work.
The government appears to be making attempts to address the issue. In his speech at the Conservative party conference, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced further support for a number of schemes aimed at aiding businesses in finding the staff they need, and supporting jobseekers to find work. The £500 million support package includes further cash incentives for hiring apprentices, an extension to the Kickstart scheme and to the Jets scheme, which aims to specifically help the long-term unemployed find work.
Although the furlough scheme is widely deemed to have been a success, enabling companies to keep a vast number of people in employment and allowing the UK to have one of the fastest economic recoveries globally, there are still question marks around whether these additional schemes go far enough in helping employers fill vacant roles and skills shortages.
Publicity has played, and will play, a major role in the schemes’ future success. Until now, employers have been focused on how to best utilise the furlough scheme and awareness around other support measures available has not been as widespread as it should have been. For employers with skills gaps, the chancellor’s recent announcement marks an opportunity to get creative around filling roles.
It’s well known that many sectors, including hospitality, leisure and construction, are suffering from crippling labour shortages. The extension of the government’s support schemes offers a way to fill gaps, particularly for businesses looking for lower-skilled workers, volume roles, and to reduce reliance on agency staff. However, it’s essential that businesses take time to fully absorb information about the options available and ensure they are being used to the maximum effect. For example, it may be that the support on offer as part of the apprenticeship levy scheme isn’t being used to its full potential. This could be the case for businesses that have started using other schemes, such as Kickstart and Jets, too.
Understand the conditions
With any employment support package, it’s important to understand the terms and conditions that apply. This works both ways; employees should know how their employment and training will be structured, and employers should be aware of how to manage workers if the employment isn’t successful and any restrictions upon them under the state-backed schemes. Being hampered by inflexible contracts and employees who are not effectively performing their roles is likely to be detrimental to the success of any business.
The schemes extended by the chancellor sound effective, but as always, their long-term success will come down to the detail and they must be fit for purpose.”
The schemes extended by the chancellor sound effective, but as always, their long-term success will come down to the detail and they must be fit for purpose. They must offer employers the flexibility to recruit quickly and to move workers on if the relationship isn’t working. That being said, the terms and conditions of the Kickstart and Jets schemes are not particularly onerous. They were brought in during the pandemic to support the UK’s workforce in finding employment and it would be counterproductive for them to be burdensome to use.
Don’t forget best practice
If employers seize the opportunity to start fully tapping into the schemes available, there are other considerations which must be taken into account as part of best practice. These include ensuring that a fair and proper recruitment process is undertaken and ensuring that employees and their performance are kept under review and are well managed. It’s a common misconception that until someone has worked at a business for two years, employers are free to dismiss at any stage without risk; however, it’s essential to be aware that there are a number of claims that can be brought from day one, such as whistleblowing-related detriment or dismissal and discrimination claims based on any of the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.
If the chancellor is backing the effectiveness of schemes such as Kickstart and Jets in helping to alleviate post-furlough unemployment, it’s essential he keeps the needs of business in mind. The schemes provide a real opportunity for employers to tap into available workforces and those now looking for work after furlough has ended, but awareness and publicity around their existence must be improved if they are to be as effective in practice as they appear on paper.