I do not need to convince you just how varied, interesting and rewarding a career in the legal sector can be – but I do not think enough young people realise this. I want to change that. I want more young people to see that there are lots of great opportunities out there for those who do not necessarily want to study law at university or dream of standing in a courtroom.
That is why last month my team met with leading employers in the industry, including Allen & Overy and Linklaters, to talk about what opportunities they could give to young people. I know that many firms already offer apprenticeships in business support roles, and was pleased to hear that from next year recruits will be able to start on a higher apprenticeship with the potential to go on to qualify as a solicitor.
If you do not know about the benefits of apprenticeships just ask 18-year-old Nathan Mee, and Bradley and Jefferies Solicitors. With financial help thanks to one of the government’s apprenticeship grants, this Derby-based firm of solicitors was able to take on Nathan, its first apprentice, as a business and administration apprentice.
Bradley and Jefferies has recently received the first instalment of the grant, and staff are delighted with the positive impact Nathan has made since joining. The company is just the latest in a growing number of businesses that are benefiting from this initiative.
Indeed, we recently learned that apprenticeship starts topped the 500,000 mark for the first time in 2011/12. That is 500,000 opportunities for people like Nathan to progress their careers, and benefit from training and qualifications while in paid employment. But impressive as they are, apprenticeships are not about numbers. They are about offering quality learning on the job, while preparing people of all ages to improve and succeed in their careers.
That is why I am delighted we are offering an extra 20,000 apprenticeship grants as part of a £1bn package of support to help young people get their foot on to the work ladder. We know youth unemployment is currently too high – it is a problem that has been building up for much of the past decade – so earlier this year we introduced the Youth Contract, which will create nearly 500,000 opportunities for young people to help them find work over the next three years.
The Youth Contract will allow us to offer 100,000 work experience places each year, giving young people the skills and experience they need to find work and allowing employers to see a potential recruit in action. But making sure your new recruit has the right skills and experience is only part of what we are offering.
Because we know taking on a new member of staff can be a big commitment, we are also offering a wage incentive – up to £2,275 for every 18-24-year-old taken on through our Work Programme. The money is there for the taking and could help meet the costs of extra training or equipment which a new recruit may require. Come and get it before others do.
It is early days for the Youth Contract, but there are optimistic signs. Last month’s employment figures showed a 49,000 decrease in the number of unemployed 16-24 year olds, which shows we are on the right track.
But there is more to do: unemployment is a tragedy for every young person longing to embark on a career, and it could be a problem for businesses in the future if we end up with a working-age population devoid of the skills they need.
I know that despite the better economic news in recent months these are still uncertain times, and taking on new staff can be a big step. But it is also a good time to invest for the future. If we work together, we can help more young people into work – and ensure the legal sector is prepared for the future.
Mark Hoban is employment minister