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“I had been applying for all kinds of jobs and wasn’t getting anywhere, but then this role came up… and it’s been a godsend really.”

Twenty four-year-old Geddy Stringer was unemployed after finishing his Masters in Musical Theatre online in September. He felt disheartened after applying for jobs across retail, hospitality and administration – without much luck.

“I was faced with an impossible situation and I had to sign on to Universal Credit. I didn’t want to do it as I felt I didn’t deserve it, and there were people out there more deserving than I was,” he says.

“On top of the fact my industry is currently shut down, I didn’t have much hope.”

But last week, he started a new job as part of the government’s Kickstart scheme.

  • UK unemployment rate continues to surge

Kickstart is open to 16-to-24 year olds who are claiming universal credit and the Treasury says more than 19,000 roles have been created so far.

The scheme is good for “getting young people valuable paid work experience at a time when job opportunities are few and far between”, says Kathleen Henehan, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation think tank,

But she says more action is needed to tackle youth unemployment, which could exceed one million.

Employers are cutting hundreds of thousands of jobs as the coronavirus crisis continues to shake the UK economy. And the unemployment rate among young people is far higher than the overall rate of 4.8%, reaching 14.6%.

When lockdown restrictions were lessened in October, Geddy heard of a job opportunity as a front-of-house assistant at the Rathbone Boxing Club in central London.

Although he was worried that the second national lockdown in England might mean this opportunity would vanish, he’s mostly working from home as the gym offers Zoom classes and Instagram Live boxing sessions.

On top of administrative work, he says he’s been helping the business researching new fundraising opportunities and grants.

“It’s been pretty fast-going and I feel I’ve been chucked in at the deep end in the best possible way.”

But tens of thousands more placements like Geddy’s will need to be created in the coming months – despite lockdown and a tough jobs market – if the government is to reach its target of 250,000.

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How does the Kickstart scheme work?

The Kickstart scheme aims to get young people who are currently claiming universal credit on work placements, which last for a period of up to six months.

The government will cover 100% of minimum wage for 16-24-year-olds, up to 25 hours per week. They’ll also cover National Insurance payments and any pension contributions.

Per hour, that’s £4.55 for under 18s, £6.45 for 18 to 20-year-olds, and £8.20 for 21 to 24-year-olds.

Bosses can top up that payment if they wish. They also get £1,500 to set up support and training, and to pay for uniforms and other costs.

How can you apply to the Kickstart scheme?

The scheme opened for applications in August, and began last week. It will run until December 2021 – with the option of being extended.

If you’re currently claiming universal credit, your work coach will be able to help you look at the eligibility criteria. If you are eligible for any roles in the local area, you’ll be able to apply for those as normal.

Employers who have signed up so far include Bloomberg, Network Rail, and Tesco. The £2bn programme aims to create 250,000 work placements, with scope for more if it’s a success.

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Tough move

For young people in sectors hit particularly hard by the coronavirus crisis, such as hospitality or retail, the problem is that “there are simply no vacancies available”, Ms Henehan says.

“What few job vacancies there are tend to be concentrated in sectors like healthcare. Making the career jump from hotels to healthcare is tough at the best of times, let alone during a recession.”

In addition to Kickstart, she suggests companies should invest more in new jobs and ensure apprenticeships or other training opportunities go to young people.

When the scheme was launched, there were also concerns over how small businesses could take part, as employers needed to provide at least 30 placements.

But, the Treasury said that more than 500 “gateways” – organisations that act on behalf of employers with space for 29 or fewer placements – had signed up.

For Geddy, he feels fortunate to have found a new role.

“They’re not just seeing us as people who want to turn up, do the job and leave.

“But I do struggle with the idea [the Kickstart Scheme] came out at the time when people were being told to retrain for other careers.”

“I hope anybody else signing up for the scheme has someone who is supportive too, rather than just using them for cheap labour.”

Bluebaring are a Kickstart Scheme Gateway and you can find out more about how you can get involved here

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