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Tesco CEO says youth employment will be made ‘political priority’

Tesco Store in Manchester, Oldham

Tesco CEO says youth employment will be made ‘political priority’

Tesco's chief Ken Murphy has called for making youth employment a top political priority after the “turbulence” of the past years.

In an opinion piece for This is Money, Murphy said school leavers need the most support.

He noted that “their education has been disrupted, good quality jobs are at a premium, and many risk being left behind”.

He said school leavers face more obstacles in the UK’s deprived areas.

This has led to youth looking for jobs and “an increasing youth unemployment rate”.

Mr Murphy said: “This is a societal issue that needs to be addressed through the combined effort of business and government – and retail plays a crucial role in that.

“Retail is one of the UK economy’s proudest meritocracies – it doesn’t matter who you are, where you live or what your background is, you can go from shop floor to boardroom with determination, ambition and drive.”

He continued: “It’s also one of the UK’s strongest industries – and it’s high time government listened to how it can help unlock the potential in our young people, right across the country.

“The apprenticeship levy is restrictive and impractical, if well intentioned. And my opinions are not unique. The British Retail Consortium, the industry body, recently described the levy as ‘outdated’ and ‘broken’.”

Murphy believes that had reforms been enacted earlier, as requested by the retail sector five years ago, Tesco could have employed an additional 2,500 apprentices.

“We can only offer 150 Stronger Starts Apprenticeships, when we know there will be demand for so many more"

Despite the lack of government support, Tesco is launching a new apprenticeship program, Stronger Starts.

It is aimed at 16–18-year-olds, requiring no previous educational qualifications and providing the equivalent of 5 GCSEs. 

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Murphy said entry-level apprenticeships at Tesco have been shown to increase skills and pay by 20 percent within four years.

However, restrictive government policies limit the number of apprenticeships Tesco can offer.

The CEO said: “We can only offer 150 Stronger Starts Apprenticeships, when we know there will be demand for so many more.

“To date we have put in more than £100m to the Apprenticeship Levy but according to the Government, our new Stronger Starts apprenticeship barely qualifies for levy funds.”

He added: “In fact, since 2017 a combined £2bn of levy funds have been returned, unused, to Treasury and the number of entry level apprentices has plummeted.”

Recently, Tesco sold its banking arm to Barclays, a deal involving the transfer of 2,800 Tesco Bank staff to Barclays, valued at up to £600 million.

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