Employment

A third of jobs advertised on the government's flagship Kickstart scheme went unfilled

Critics say Rishi Sunak's scheme to tackle youth unemployment failed to address the root causes, with almost 80,000 vacancies live when it ended in March.

The UK has a shortage of workers in key sectors from health to hospitality. Image: Paul Wilkinson / Flickr

A third of the 235,000 roles advertised under the government’s flagship scheme to tackle youth unemployment during the pandemic were left unfilled when it ended.

The Kickstart scheme was launched in September 2020 to help universal credit claimants aged 16 to 24 into work. But new figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show a total of 79,900 vacancies remained when it closed on March 31.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched the £2 billion scheme to boost the post-pandemic recovery, amid fears young people could be locked out of stable employment. The scheme funded six-month work placements for people on universal credit, who were paid at least the minimum wage with a minimum of 25 hours work a week. Employers received a £1,500 incentive for each Kickstart participant employed.

The DWP has already admitted to a cross-party group of MPs that it had “no idea” why thousands of young people have stayed on universal credit rather than started Kickstart jobs.

In a damning report by the Public Accounts Committee in February, MPs concluded that, ultimately, the scheme failed to live up to its ambitions for “young people, employers, or taxpayers”.

Describing the implementation period as “chaotic”, with “little track kept” of how the money was being used, the committee found that applicants with higher education levels were more likely to be recommended for roles, doing little to address inequality in the jobs market

The ONS has also estimated there were 692,000 young people aged 16 to 24 who were unemployed or involved in education or training between October to December 2021, with little change compared to the previous three months.  

James Capell-Abra was looking to hire a Kickstart vacancy at Stress Matters, a consultancy focused on workplace wellbeing, but says that despite interviewing 15 candidates, he was unable to fill the role. 

“The bar was at the lowest possible rung and only one in 15 of the candidates could show me what I needed to see… They ended up taking a different role.” 

Capell-Abra described the applicants he interviewed as “full of anxiety and woefully underprepared to talk to potential employers.”

“All we needed to see was someone who was eager to learn, to be given an opportunity, to have a good attitude and show that they had the very basic skills of being able to converse with people,” he continued.  

“I was almost certain that every single person there had potential, but none of them could show it to me due to the anxiety they were feeling and the lack of support they’d been given to approach a conversation about a role.”

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The mental health first aid instructor says he volunteered to put on a free workshop to help young jobseekers with interview anxiety at the Job Centre Plus, and is speaking with the DWP and volunteers about how to scale up the initiative. 

After a second round of interviews Capell-Abra found a young person to employ through the scheme, which he described as a “move in the right direction”, with the decision to scrap it “disappointing”.

Mat Ilic, chief development officer at non-profit Catch22 said the Kickstart scheme “failed to recognise some of the major barriers preventing employment”.

Catch22’s programme Kickstart Community, sought to plug this gap by offering holistic support to job seekers through job coaches trained to deal with a range of personal challenges affecting applicants.

Administration was the most common Kickstart sector with 39,370 jobs started, followed by 26,060 in retail and sales, 16,480 in creative and media and 13,780 in hospitality and food. 

A government spokesperson said: “Kickstart has categorically delivered, giving more than 160,000 young people opportunities to work, earn and improve their prospects. It responded to extraordinary circumstances at unprecedented pace, as part of the wider Plan for Jobs which has defied forecasts of unemployment rising to 12 per cent – the headline rate is actually 4.1 per cent.”

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