The government has removed the minimum number of Kickstart scheme work placements an employer must create in order to apply directly, after it was revealed just 2,000 young people had started new roles since September.
Under the previous requirements, employers planning to create fewer than 30 placements were unable to directly apply to the Department for Work and Pensions. Instead, they had to apply to offer placements through an intermediary or “gateway”.
Work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “By removing the threshold of a minimum 30 jobs for direct applications, we are making it even simpler to get involved.
“Now is the time to prepare for post-lockdown placements and employers will now have a choice to apply direct or through one of our 600 fantastic Kickstart gateways who may be locally connected or sector-specific providing that tailored support.”
Although 120,000 placements for 16-24 year olds have been created under the £2bn scheme, which is set to run until the end of 2021, Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the BBC that coronavirus restrictions were making it difficult for young people to start their roles.
“Obviously because of the lockdowns and restrictions, that hampers businesses’ ability to bring people into work,” he said.
“What we can look forward to, as the restrictions ease, is more of these young people starting those placements.
“But taking a step back, we announced this scheme first week of July, it went live the first week of September and here we are, just a few months later, with 120,000 jobs having being vetted, funded and created.”
He said that young people are most likely to work in sectors hit by Covid restrictions and are twice as likely to be furloughed.
However, small businesses applying though “gateway” providers claim they have been forced to delay Kickstart work placements because of administrative logjams.
The Federation of Small Businesses said that the process had been slow and difficult for those using gateways, with a backlog of young people who had been appointed through intermediaries but unable to access work.
The FSB’s chief of external affairs, Craig Beaumont, said: “It is imperative that the government focuses immediately on unsticking the blockages stopping young people starting placements with those small businesses already in the system.
“Despite headline figures, delays in the current system have meant only a small number of roles have gone to JobCentre Plus and even fewer young people have yet made it through to work in a small business. The government must scale this, and fast. The longer a young person goes without workplace experience, the worse it is for both their wellbeing and future job prospects.”
It is imperative that the government focuses immediately on unsticking the blockages stopping young people starting placements with those small businesses already in the system” – Craig Beaumont, Federation of Small Businesses
Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “We hope that Department for Work and Pensions will commit to clear the backlog of approvals needed for placements already in the system before processing any new placements, and that they will continue to encourage small business to work with gateways. Chambers across the country stand ready to support small businesses who want a helping hand navigating often complex bureaucracy.”
The Youth Employment Group, which brings together more than 180 organisations, called for the Kickstart scheme to be extended beyond December, stating that this will help make up for the time lost during lockdowns and acknowledging that the youth employment crisis is unlikely to be fixed before the end of this year.
“The latest numbers of young people on Kickstart show that many employers have had no choice but to delay their placements given the continuing disruption of lockdowns. Logistically, it will be very challenging for businesses to meet the intended number of placements in such a reduced period,” the Youth Employment Group’s chairs said in a statement.
“Smaller employers may need help in knowing where to turn to for quality employability support, to reduce the administrative burden on SMEs, and spend the additional £1,500 effectively to help move young people into sustained work. The government also needs to ensure that the placements being approved are quality opportunities for young people in the geographies and sectors where they are most needed.”
Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said it would continue to act as a gateway provider for firms that do not wish to deal directly with DWP.
He said: “Young people have been hit hardest by the effects of Covid on the jobs market – and with the crisis almost a year old, bold action is necessary to help them, and other workers who are at risk of long-term unemployment. The good news is that the Kickstart programme, and other initiatives like Restart, have been met with enthusiasm by employers.
“The challenge government faces is matching employer enthusiasm with the people who need a chance.”