Red tape, cost and poor quality candidates are putting off many local small and medium firms from taking on youngsters, a new report shows.

These issues are among those cited by would-be employers surveyed by LifeSkills, an initiative by Barclays to connect employers with young people still in education.

The research demonstrated the troubles SMEs in Yorkshire say they face in offering apprenticeships.

It showed that the top five barriers regional firms faced to offering apprenticeships and work experience included difficulty in finding suitable candidates, the likely cost to the business, red tape internally around setting up a programme, a lack of internal resource to set up and manage a programme or irrelevance to the business.

But the study also showed that SME employers had a positive view of ‘work ready’ youngsters who had completed work experience or apprenticeships: 

  • nearly three-quarters of firms regarded them as keen to learn and develop professionally 
  • 62 per cent felt youngsters were ambitious 
  • 31 per cent feel they engage with a business 
  • one in five believed youngsters were happy to contribute to the business beyond their direct role 
  • 17 per cent said young recruits had an appreciation of how a business is structured and run.

According to LifeSkills, one in eight young people close to leaving secondary school say they will look for an apprenticeship when they leave education – and would boost the economy by £1.5 billion a year if they found work.

The research surveyed HR decision makers in SMEs across the UK about their attitudes towards work experience and apprenticeships. It found that nearly 65 per cent firms would like to hire young people who have completed work experience or an apprenticeship, showing an appetite for work-ready candidates.

Kirstie Mackey, head of LifeSkills at Barclays, said: “SMEs are the UK’s life blood when it comes to offering employment, but this research shows that they still perceive barriers to on-the-job training or to help young people be work-ready. Not only does it create a skills gap that holds back a generation from realising their potential but also means a potential productivity gain of over £1.5 billion to the UK economy goes untapped.

“It’s why we launched LifeSkills, to connect young people to businesses that wish to offer work experience or apprenticeships but also to raise awareness of the need for more businesses to be able to offer such programmes. Only by working together will we find sustainable solutions to the challenge of youth employment.”