Fazan Tahir is owner of the Tahir Group and a former Director of Conservative Friends of Pakistan.
For Conservatives, the recent revision of the GDP figures from the Office of National Statistics confirmed what we already knew – that we are the party of work and economic growth. The official revision to annual GDP figures made clear that the UK economy is two percent larger than previously thought and that we have now surpassed the pre-pandemic economy in overall size. A Conservative accomplishment to be proud of.
However, we should not use this good news to rest on our laurels. While the growth in jobs since 2010 has been staggering – with three million more people in work then when Labour was last in charge – we still have work to do when it comes to youth employment and providing training opportunities to younger workers. And while we all know that the expansion in higher education over the last few decades has brought about benefits to social mobility, it has also, in some ways, led to an imbalance in the labour market.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, over a third of those with an undergraduate degree are working in jobs that do not actually require a degree.This means that, for some young people at least, a degree might not have been the best option for them. It might have been better for them to have chosen a different route, either an apprenticeship, entrepreneurship or some other in-work option. A path to work that doesn’t add nearly as much of a personal financial burden upon graduation. I am aware of the benefits such alternative routes to work can bring for both young people and the economy.
As a large business owner in the hospitality sector, I know the struggle that younger workers have gone through over the last few years – as well as the benefits such employment can bring in terms of skills and self-esteem. Across my various businesses, I have hired hundreds of younger workers, helping many of them to get their first experience of the workplace. I helped to deliver a nationwide employability programme that provides workshops and paid work experience placements for young people who are not in education employment or training, or are at risk of being so. These opportunities are lifelines for many, and provide valuable real-life work experience even more – something that we as the party of workers should support.
The Conservative Government has taken steps to help improve apprenticeships over recent years. Increases in funding, new curricula and standards, as well as the apprenticeships levy, have all helped to promote this form of work-based learning for young people. However – and despite these reforms – in-work learning has failed to gain the same level of momentum amongst young people.The think tank Onward has published figures that show the number of people doing entry-level apprenticeships has fallen by more than half since 2011. This is double the overall fall in apprenticeships available. Furthermore, when we assess the age of apprentices, there are now nearly twice as many over-25-year-oldsdoing apprenticeships than 19-year-olds. Leaving a shortfall ofschool-leavers choosing apprenticeships as they should.
From a social mobility point of view, the geographic spread of apprenticeships should also perhaps be looked into. Since 2011, the number of people in the Red Wall starting apprenticeships has dropped by a third, and fallen in all but two Northern parliamentary constituencies. Meanwhile, some of the greatest increases in the number of people doing apprenticeships are in wealthy parts of London.
Given these geographic and class disparities, the forthcoming general election manifesto should have policies geared towards apprenticeships reform and provide more non-graduate paths for young people – including entrepreneurship. Such a move would not only be good for the economy, but would ultimately help our future electoral success in the Red Wall seats and beyond. As Conservatives, we should always look to reward hard work and commitment, and our young people should not be exempt from this focus.