Businesses across the West Midlands were today urged to join a new £2 billion initiative to get the region’s young people into work and the local economy back on track.
Thousands of high-quality work placements are expected to be created by the new Kickstart scheme, which launched today to help those aged between 16 and 24 who are on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment.
Young people have been especially hard hit by the economic impact of lockdown with latest figures showing that the number of 16 to 24-year-olds claiming benefit has more than doubled to 44,000 since March when the pandemic first struck.
Nearly 800 West Midlands employers had already signed up to the scheme ahead of today’s launch, but business and political leaders are encouraging thousands more to follow suit.
The rollout of the Government’s Kickstart comes after the West Midlands set out the need for further youth training to help recharge the region in its investment blueprint: Kickstarting the West Midlands Economy: Our investment case to government
The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is leading the region in brokering and promoting the Kickstart scheme, working in partnership with local councils and Chambers of Commerce.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, said:
We know that young people have been hardest hit by lockdown, and also face bearing the brunt of the furlough scheme ending. For a region that has a young population, that is deeply worrying.
That is why in our conversations with Government over recent months, support for young people and help to get them into work has been so high on our priority list. Thankfully our lobbying campaign paid off and the Chancellor announced the Kickstart scheme, which comes alive today. But Kickstart will only reach its true potential if enough businesses get involved, as the more businesses that sign up mean more young people moving into work.
West Midlands’ businesses have already responded phenomenally, with nearly 800 already signing up to the scheme before it even went live. But there are so many more who could get involved, and take on a young person at no or very little cost. So my message to businesses big and small today is simple: sign up, and help Kickstart a young person’s career.
Companies can join Kickstart and find out more information by visiting https://www.wmca.org.uk/kickstart-scheme
Funding available for each placement will cover the national minimum wage for 25 hours a week, plus employer National Insurance and minimum auto-enrolment contributions. Young people will also be supported to develop new skills so they can move into sustained employment after they have completed their Kickstart-funded job. Employers can spread the start date of the placements up to the end of December 2021.
The Kickstart scheme is expected to create 20,000 placements in the West Midlands.
Employers planning to offer more than 30 placements can apply direct to the Kickstart scheme, while those offering fewer should go through their local council or Chamber of Commerce.
Louise Bennett, chief executive at Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, which has already registered 350 placements for Kickstart on behalf of local businesses, said:
Kickstart is a great initiative to support our young unemployed and has been welcomed by local businesses.
The Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce is proud to put ourselves forward as a Gateway Organisation and our Kickstart coordinator, Sam Beard, is happy to help and advise any businesses interested in being part of this ground-breaking scheme.
Fleur Sexton, managing director of PET-Xi Training Ltd, added:
The Kickstart scheme does a lot to redress the balance within the community by helping young people into jobs where they become the changemakers and the voice of the next generation.
Cllr Ian Brookfield, leader of City of Wolverhampton Council and WMCA portfolio holder for the economy, chairs a WMCA taskforce focused on improving opportunities for young unemployed people. He said:
The West Midlands is home to one of the youngest populations in Europe, with 32 per cent under the age of 25. Our young people are our future and we must do everything we can to support them.
I would urge all local employers to think about taking on a young person and register their interest in Kickstart now. Their involvement is vital to improve the prospects of our region’s young people – and will bring fresh talent into their business.