We can’t let our young people bear the economic brunt of COVID-19 – Update on how you and The Club have made an impact

Dear Members,

I wrote to you in May, expressing my concern that We can’t let our young people bear the economic brunt of COVID-19. As promised, below is a full update – but first, I would like to ask did you start your career as an apprentice or graduate trainee? Never have we needed powerful role models more than now, when the young must be urged to take up earn and learn opportunities offered by employers, with Government support.

The 5% Club intends to showcase a list of names to remind candidates, their families and policy-makers how life-changing (and business changing) such investments are. So if that was how you started your career, please email gill.cronin@5percentclub.org.uk and we’ll add your name with pride, to the roll call.

I was grateful that you indicated your support for our paper on the potential harm COVID would do to young futures. I shared it not only with hundreds of business leaders but also the Government. In response, during May and June I was offered and met with:

  • No 10: Baroness Wolf – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Skills adviser.
  • Department for Education (DfE): Iain Mansfield – senior adviser to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson
  • Gillian Keegan MP –Apprenticeships and Skills Minister.

These discussions were all positive, with a follow-up round table suggested with Gillian Keegan to widen the debate with business leaders. And it is also clear that via this engagement, our voice joined with others to feed into the Treasury’s work, culminating in the Chancellor’s announcement in early July, as follows:

We asked: The Government to adopt the concept of a “COVID premium” for existing Pupil Premium children.

The Government provided:

  • £1bn of funding to support children and young people, including a universal £650m “catch-up premium” for the 2020-21 academic year to ensure schools help all pupils make up for lost teaching time; and
  • a £350m National Tutoring Programme to provide additional, targeted support for those children and young people who need the most help.

We asked: For the procurement of equipment for online learning to be prioritised by education authorities, just as with PPE for healthcare.
The Government provided:

Laptops and tablets for disadvantaged families, children and young adults who did not have access to them through another source, such as their school.

We asked: You as employers to prioritise apprenticeship, graduate and other earn-and-learn schemes to maintain the talent and opportunity pipeline.

You responded:

Many members of The Club have confirmed their commitment to apprentices, current and new.  At Balfour Beatty, we remain committed to taking on a similar number of apprentices, graduates and trainees year-on-year, despite COVID.

And the Government responded:
The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, The Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP has created five new business-focused groups to support Britain’s growth potential and create jobs, as part of the government’s plans to help the economy bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic. One of these groups is named: Increasing opportunity: How to level up economic performance across the UK, including through skills and apprenticeships

We asked: For a cash-injection into the Apprenticeship Levy and its overdue reform

There is no commitment as yet to tackling the Levy; but the discussion is live and we will continue to campaign for reform of this key area of Government policy.

We asked: For all employers to look through current grade focused recruitment during the pandemic toward “in the round” assessment techniques, identifying potential aptitude and attitude in emerging talent applicants.

You responded: Many non-members have joined The 5% Club’s best practice events, held online during the crisis, including how to recruit and engage with apprentices during lockdown.

We asked: For Government to facilitate passporting to allow quick conversion of apprentices to sectors with similar skill needs 

The Government provided:

  • Various supporting initiatives – the largest of which has been the “Apprenticeship Bonus”, providing assistance of £2000 for each new apprentice aged 16-24 hired before January 2021, and £1500 for those aged over 25.
  • The DfE has launched a new online matching and redundancy support service for apprentices, including a  “vacancy sharing service” that allows employers to share their vacancies with redundant apprentices.
  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the launch of the Construction Talent Retention Scheme (a partnership between the Government and industry to secure essential talent) an online portal that supports redeployment of staff at risk of redundancy across the sector, while also enabling temporary employee loans between businesses. The scheme will give displaced workers from other sectors a route to find new employment in construction.

We asked: For a rescue package for training providers, many of whom are struggling for survival but critical to the national skills training agenda.

The Government provided: The support for employers to encourage hiring apprentices will help the training sector, although we anticipate some providers struggling to survive the crisis. We are continuing to monitor this.

Whilst I am pleased at the engagement we have received on much of our concerns, I do not underestimate the challenges that lie ahead. Many of these will be common and likely shared by most of us. They will need considerable and concerted effort to achieve resolution. Please be assured that The 5% Club will be there to assist and share our collective experience. Above all, we will continue to strive for the commitment to “earn and learn” to grow as we all emerge from the crisis. Every business in the UK is facing challenges and I am sure none of us are taking for granted the task ahead, especially in protecting the long term future of our economy and society.

Thank you for your continued engagement and support to The Club.

Leo Quinn,
Group Chief Executive, Balfour Beatty plc; Founder of The 5% Club