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Apprentices have been hit the hardest by COVID-19 with job losses mostly directed at school leavers and those under 25 years of age.

A recent report by the Mitchell Institute has highlighted the disproportionate impact of job losses on the young.

“Young people accounted for around 45 per cent of the total decline in employment in May 2020 despite comprising just 16 per cent of the population,” the report said referring to figures from the National Skills Commission.

The report also pointed to the danger of what they term ‘occupational scarring’. This refers to the long term effect on young people who enter a flat labour market.

They take jobs below their skill level or part-time jobs to gain a foothold, and take longer to move up the employment ladder.

A critical aspect of the effect of COVID-19 is the alarming growth of those young people not in employment or education (NEET).

Completion rates for apprenticeships and traineeships also continue to worsen.

Data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) released in July 2020 show national completion rates have declined to 49.1 per cent for all occupations and 43.8 per cent for trades. Individual completion rates are 56.2 per cent for trade occupations and 57.7 per cent for non-trade occupations.

Just last month the Ai Group released a background paper entitled “An apprenticeship model for the modern economy” which examines a range of options to promote apprenticeships to young people.

“Opportunities for vacancies are linked to the outlook for each business, and the uncertainty generated by the pandemic has impacted heavily on this. If vacancies remain low for the coming months or years, this will not only impact on future skills shortages but will severely limit career possibilities for school leavers and other young people,” the paper states.

“For many years, employers have lamented the paucity of good candidates for apprenticeship vacancies. If apprenticeships are truly valued, how can they be made more attractive to young people?

“When an employer weighs up the cost of employing an apprentice, financial considerations are not the only criteria. However, cost is always an important factor, as it is with any business decision.

“Over time, the financial equation of weighing up incentives against wages, enrolment fees, durations and supervision costs, has made the employment of apprentices less attractive.

“Ai Group believes that incentives need to be revisited in acknowledgement that costs have increased markedly over 20 years and to restore some balance to the financial equation.”

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