The University of Sussex Vice-Chancellor is among a number of education and employment leaders calling on the Government to release more funding to help young people into employment.
Professor Adam Tickell says increased investment in skills is urgently required as the UK economy seeks to bounce back from the devastation of the Covid pandemic, in a letter sent to four Government ministers with responsibilities for employment, training and education including Treasury Secretary Rishi Sunak.
The ministers are being urged to relax the current rules around the Apprenticeship Levy to allow billions of pounds of unspent funding to be used in more flexible, targeted and regionally responsive ways.
The additional funding is particularly needed for young people who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are currently facing limited job opportunities, states the letter signed by ten University Vice-Chancellors, five Student Union presidents and three heads of employment partnerships.
The letter proposes the establishment of a joint working group with Government to agree more flexible ways to use the Apprenticeship Levy funding to boost skills in critical areas of need.
Possible new applications for the unspent funding include opportunities combining work experience, research and technical skills training and mentoring for key sectors where skills gaps exist; or skills programmes to develop entrepreneurial and leadership skills with SMEs.
It has also been proposed that the funding could be used to establish new training provision for people whose jobs or future job opportunities have been cut as a result of the changes in the economy due to the pandemic and to boost support for paid internships with extra training for young people from socially marginalised and disadvantaged groups.
Prof Tickell, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Sussex, said: “The Covid pandemic has wreaked terrible loss and destruction through many aspects of our lives over the past year.
“This is particularly so in terms of employment for young people who have seen education and training disrupted, part-time and casual work opportunities all but disappear and longer-term work and career opportunities become much more scarce.
“These are the people who could play a significant role in driving forward the UK economy out of the difficult times we have been through if the opportunities can be made available.
“At present the Apprenticeship Levy is too rigid in its structure and it is not helping as many people as it should. By making changes to the system now, and by giving the region employment and education experts a role in how that funding is spent to meet specific localised needs, could be the catalyst to begin undoing the damage of the pandemic and help build a sustainable economy for all.”
Paris Palmano, University of Sussex Students’ Union Wellbeing Officer, said: “The Students’ Union supports this initiative by Sussex and several other UK Universities to call on the Government to support more young people into work.
“We support the decentralisation of the Apprenticeship Levy as we believe local government and communities are best placed to allocate this funding to local projects and initiatives.
“We believe the Levy should be used in part to help marginalised and underserved communities across the country, who may be less likely to access higher education, into good sustainable jobs. This will be vital for a Covid recovery that meets our climate obligations.”