Through all the turbulence of recent years, it is the school leavers who need the most support.
Their education has been disrupted, good quality jobs are scarce and many are at risk of being left behind.
Now, if we look at young people leaving school in some of the most deprived areas of the UK, the barriers intensify. What do we have left? More young people looking for jobs and a rising youth unemployment rate.
Looking ahead: Tesco chief executive Ken Murphy believes school leavers need more support
This is a social issue that needs to be addressed through the combined efforts of business and government, and retail plays a crucial role in this.
Retail is one of the UK economy’s proudest meritocracies – no matter who you are, where you live or what your background is, you can move from the shop floor to the boardroom with determination, ambition and drive.
It’s also one of the UK’s strongest industries, and it’s about time the government listened to how it can help unlock the potential of our young people across the country.
The apprenticeship tax is restrictive and impractical, if well-intentioned. And my opinions are not unique. British retail
The Consortium, the industry body, recently described the tax as “outdated” and “non-compliant”.
If reforms had been made when we started asking for them five years ago, we would have hired 2,500 more apprentices at Tesco alone.
In terms of scale, that’s enough high-quality jobs to fully staff all Tesco stores in Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt’s constituencies five times over. It would also mean a 50 per cent increase in our overall apprenticeship programme.
This is important and we move forward, with or without Government support.
Backing: Getting young people into work should be a priority for the government, says Ken Murphy
Today we launch our new Stronger Starts learning program for young people aged 16-18.
Stronger Starts is about making a positive difference in communities and this learning is aimed at students who are struggling and desperately need support.
It is our first apprenticeship that does not require educational qualifications and can provide young people with the equivalent of 5 GCSEs.
Entry-level apprenticeships have been shown to improve skills and typically increase wages by 20 per cent over four years at Tesco.
But poorly designed government policy means we can’t deliver enough. We can only offer 150 Stronger Starts learning programmes, when we know there will be demand for many more.
To date we have contributed more than £100 million to the apprenticeship levy, but according to the Government, our new Stronger Starts apprenticeship program barely qualifies for funding from the levy.
In fact, a total of £2 billion in unused tax funding has been returned to the Treasury since 2017 and the number of entry-level apprentices has plummeted.
As politicians put pen to paper on their manifestos, I hope that helping young people find work is one of their top priorities and, if they finally start listening to retailers, they will see that we have some practical ways to help close the gap. gap between education and employment.
The social and economic imperative is clear. The reform is beneficial for workers, companies and the economy.
So if the government is serious about leveling up the country, helping people into skilled, secure jobs and boosting growth after two tough years of inflation, then now is the time to make a clear statement of intent.