The mayor of Tees Valley has earmarked £1 million to pay the wages of more than 100 young apprentices in an effort to reverse the decline of starts as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Ben Houchen (pictured) announced the fund for his region today after a recent survey by his combined authority found 69 per cent of businesses who responded had furloughed apprentices while more than third said they could no longer commit to employing an apprentice.

The money will be used to fund “100 per cent” of the apprentices’ wages in their first six months of employment, and 50 per cent for the remainder of the apprenticeship, up to a maximum of two years.

The announcement said businesses who sign up to the scheme will be asked to pay the national minimum wage, rather than the national apprenticeship wage, where applicable, and the apprentices will also be employed for a minimum of 30 hours a week.

The fund will be made available to those aged 16 to 20.

It comes just weeks after prime minister Boris Johnson told the nation during a coronavirus briefing that young people “should be guaranteed an apprenticeship” after warning of “many, many job losses” expected from the fallout of Covid-19. Details of how this would work or whether it is even an actual policy are yet to emerge.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers has since called on the government to set aside £3.6 billion, as part of an £8.6 billion post-pandemic skills package, to spend on subsidising wages for half a million young apprentices to protect them from redundancy.

At the end of May, the Department for Education published statistics that showed from March 23, when lockdown started, to the end of April, a total of 13,020 apprenticeship starts had been reported so far – half of the 26,330 reported for the same period at the same point last year.

Mayor Houchen said: “The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for businesses and local workers. As part of my plan for jobs, we need to make sure that our young people who are part way through an apprenticeship can continue with the qualifications, which will help them for the rest of their lives.

“Unfortunately, many businesses are now reluctant to commit to offering apprenticeships to young people because of the uncertainty they are currently experiencing and as part of my plan to create local jobs for local people, I’m going to change this.”

He added: “By offering almost £1 million and funding the salaries of more than 100 apprenticeships, we can make sure that our talented young people across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool are getting the good highly skilled, good quality jobs they deserve and are starting off on the road to a successful career.

“This has been a difficult time for everybody, but we need to make sure our young people are equipped to fill the skills gap which many businesses are crying out for.

“They do not deserve to be disadvantaged because of the coronavirus – they are the workers of the future and we need to do all we can to support them.”

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