In an open letter published by The Guardian, Herford College President Will Huttton has called for the establishment of a National Youth Corps to guarantee job opportunities for current students and school-leavers across the country.

Organised by Hutton, the letter has been co-signed by, among others, MP Rushanara Ali, Sarah Atkinson of the Social Mobility Foundation and Kirsty McHugh of the Mayor’s Fund for London. It calls for a government-funded programme to create work and training opportunities for 16-25 year-olds, guaranteeing at least minimum wage, to run until the end of 2021.

Terming this generation of students “Generation ‘Covid’”, Hutton writes that “through no fault of their own, [they] face having their lives altered as no other generation since the war, with scars that will last their entire lives. Our national conversation must now incorporate how we act to turn this looming disaster into an opportunity.”

This generation of graduates, he notes, is facing the toughest labour market for 75 years, with 30% of university students having lost a job or job offer. Many are being affected permanently – a report from think-tank Resolution Foundation warned last week that younger workers risk their pay being affected for years to come and that more than a third of 18-24 year-olds are currently earning less than they did at the start of the year.

Crucial to the programme will be a personal mentoring facility, through which members of the Youth Corps can be helped to adapt to the changing conditions of the labour market. The plan calls for employers based in the UK to pledge a variety of job opportunities, which should include offers from the government, the NHS, apprenticeships, voluntary organisations, community leadership academies, and many more. These job offers would then distributed to National Youth Corps centres across the country, as well as being accessible to members via an app.

The letter urges the government to announce its intent to follow this plan as soon as possible, with the necessary funding pledged at a similar time. In order for it to be successful, it would have to be up and running before the end of the academic year in July. If the government should choose to run the scheme, it is estimated that up to one million 16-25 year-olds would apply to be part of it.

The letter concludes that “the Youth Corps has the potential to be a crucial building block in getting the whole of Britain back to work, both in providing opportunities for young people at a crucial moment in their lives and in creating an army of workers who can help propel a faster economic recovery than would otherwise be the case. It is a moral and economic imperative.”

Image credit to Paul Gillett.

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