Apprentices: A Future for them and for London

During the last Mayoral election campaign, Boris pledged to create 250,000 London apprentices before 2016. His whole team recognized that those hardest hit by global downturn would be the young men and women of this great city. and we decided to make jobs and growth our number one priority for the second term.

After the election Boris called me in an asked me to take on the job of hitting this challenging target by becoming London’s first ever Deputy Mayor for Business and Enterprise, with special responsibility for Apprenticeships. I accepted without hesitation.

During my time as Deputy Mayor for Policing I had tried hard to encourage employers to take on young offenders, with some success. On my first visit to Feltham I was surprised at how smart the boy prisoners were, and how entrepreneurial they were, sadly just not in the right industry. What they needed was the opportunity to go straight, someone who would give them a chance, train them, teach them and set an example. As a result of our work in that prison over four years we saw boys leave straight into training and employment rather than straight back to a life of crime. And these were the young people who had gone wrong. I saw first hand how the prospect of a job lit flame in them and gave them back their self-respect.

I was just as concerned about all the thousands of other youngsters who didn’t turn to crime, but who also faced a city without the opportunities that drew me here from the north 25 years ago. That is why I accepted my new job with such enthusiasm, but I knew immediately that I needed help, specifically help in bringing the problems of youth unemployment to greater prominence and then help recruiting businesses into the apprenticeship scheme to help build a future for the next generation of Londoners. I could not have asked for a better partner that the Evening Standard. When I sat down six months ago with the Editor Sarah Sands and their award-winning writer David Cohen to brief them about apprenticeships they immediately saw the opportunity to make a difference to the city they serve. Their enthusiasm was infectious and the campaign they launched last week, Ladder for London, urging businesses to get involved is exactly what we need.

And we know from our own campaign that there is a ready appetite out there. Since 2010 City Hall has recruited 75,000 new apprentices and we are on target to hit 100,000 by Christmas this year. London is the fastest growing apprenticeships region with the Mayoralty leading the way providing advertising space on the transport network and recruiting 3000 apprentices in the organisations we control.

We have worked directly with businesses large and small to get them to sign up: Firms like HSBC (currently 127 apprentices with plans for a further 60 in 2013), Mediacom, Infosys, TATA Consulting Ltd, and Channel 4 are developing their own programmes supporting London’s economy and young people in particular. This month I am hosting a round table with 50 prominent London SME’s to talk about how they can do their bit.

And this is a win win for everyone: 80% of those who employ apprentices agree that they make the workplace more productive; 88% of employers believe that apprenticeships lead to a more motivated and satisfied workforce; and over 80% of apprentices find themselves in permanent jobs after their first year.

But the big winner in all this is London. I believe that a hard working city is a happy city and our future happiness and prosperity depends on getting young Londoners from all corners of the capital into work.

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Evening Standard September 2012