‘Trainee jobs could end youth unemployment’

'Trainee jobs could end youth unemployment'
Should Sweden implement German-style trainee programmes? Photo: Lena Granefelt/imagebank.sweden.se
As the Swedish government announces plans to put millions of kronor towards creating thousands of trainee jobs by 2017, leading businessman Carl Bennet proposes a German-style programme to eliminate the country's endemic youth unemployment for this week's debate article.

A society that cannot give jobs to young people has no future. Today 124,000 young people are unemployed in Sweden according to Statistics Sweden (SCB). However, we can eradicate youth unemployment in just one parliamentary term and solve the skills supply. This would work if we introduce an trainee programme following the German model. Those countries that are already trying this system have the lowest rate of unemployment amongst young people in Europe. In Germany approximately 1.5 million adolescents participate in apprenticeship-style education. The country's youth unemployment rate is only seven percent, compared to 20 percent in Sweden.

I own a group of companies with 22,000 employees within 45 countries and sales in approximately 140 countries. I see that Sweden has a successful social model with education, creativity, flexibility, teamwork in work life and entrepreneurship. The founding principles are the values of a society with full employment and where everyone has a fair chance to realize their aspirations. This creates a feeling of togetherness and pride and with that comes quality and success. Sweden must reclaim this role. But if that is to happen, we cannot leave 20 percent of our youth in the bog of unemployment. We need them, and all of everyone else, to complete a modern base of knowledge. I want to see a school that is resting on four points:

– The position of the education and the educators should be strengthened

– There needs to be more time and resources for teaching itself, which should consist of less administrative work

– The curriculum should not change so often

– Teachers’ salaries should be prioritized so that the profession will be interesting and its status raised through career options

We can combine vocational training that promotes growth and welfare with the goal to reduce adolescent unemployment. In this way we can be open and learn from the positive role models around us. Then we can implement the trainee programme that has been so effective in Germany.

Of German adolescents, 60 percent choose an apprenticeship programme over continuing studies after school. Every year 500,000 new young people start as apprentices. In total 1.5 million in this system are between the ages of 15-24. The common practice is that they work half-time and study half-time. In Sweden less than one percent are apprentices. In Germany, upon completion of the apprenticeship programme, one can choose to go on to university. I want to see a system that empowers the youth, the society, the business world and which allows the opportunity for future higher education studies.

Apprentices have a monthly salary between 600-800 euro (5,800-7,700 SEK). The compensation is equal to the amount that university students borrow every month. I have introduced an apprenticeship programme at my companies in Germany. These companies have a total of 2,000 employees of which three percent are trainees, that is 60-70 young people. Of the approximately 500,000 which start the three-year apprentice programme in Germany, 50 percent receive permanent employment at the companies they have worked for, 25 percent receive temporary employment at the company and 25 percent continue on to other jobs or continue their studies.

If we transfer the German numbers to Sweden, this means that employment and education can be created for approximately 60,000 young people. One challenge is that us private companies arrange 30,000 apprenticeships and the municipal and state sector 30,000.

SCB’s figures from February cite a total of 124,000 unemployed youths. Of these, 60,000 study full-time. This leaves a total of 64,000 unemployed, equal to the 60,000 apprenticeships I want and believe can be created.

One third of the compensation combined with companies employing approximately three percent of their staff as apprentices would mean that the total cost of payroll would increase by one percent. This is a cost that myself and others will gladly accept to effectively combat Swedish youth unemployment. It is a mystery to me that Sweden still does not have a large scale apprenticeship program if the results are this good.

Seriously speaking. What do we say to future generations when they ask us why we let and are letting this human wastefulness last and why we haven't tried all avenues?

I don’t want to stand without answers or say that we didn't care. My reply and my solution is to implement this apprenticeship programme that has meant so much for today’s Germany, a country that we often compare ourselves to. What answer does the government have? What is the labour market doing? Personally I am prepared to employ three percent of my 2,500 employees in Sweden as trainees as soon as the conditions are in place and I am convinced that many in the business world are prepared to do the same.

This is a translated article originally written in Swedish by Carl Bennet, industrialist, principal shareholder and chairman of the publicly traded companies Getinge, Lifco and Elanders and published in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

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