Last updated: 19.11.14

Could apprenticeships help to improve youth unemployment?

When the financial crisis struck in 2008, young people were hit the hardest, leaving almost a quarter out of work three years later.

Figures released last week reveal that the rate has fallen, with 16 per cent of 16 to 24 years old unemployed, but what can be done to encourage further improvements?

Last month, the government launched a drive to boost the number of apprentices, which has opened up a host of new jobs for young people to start. The highest-level apprentices can go on to achieve the equivalent of a university degree and the most sought-after schemes could lead to jobs with attractive salaries.

Young people could learn how to do one of 1,200 jobs, ranging from legal work and advertising, to art gallery roles and information technology. In addition to providing school leavers will desirable skills, many commentators believe apprenticeships could help solve the problem of youth unemployment.

However, the UK has a long way to go compared to elsewhere in the world, according to a new report from the thinktank Demos, which highlighted that Britain has 11 apprentices per 1,000 employees versus 39 in Australia, 40 in Germany and 43 in Switzerland.

The firm believes that boosting the number of young people taking up apprenticeships to similar levels would boost Britain's gross domestic product by £4 billion a year, as well as improving unemployment figures.

Ben Sparkes, a 17-year old from Chelmsford in Essex, is taking part in the government scheme to increase the number of apprentices. He told the BBC that he is currently working in a men's barbers in Basildon. He said: "I took an apprenticeship because I felt it was a better way of learning, because you get people skills at the same time and you get paid to learn as well."

However, the pay is extremely low, with the national minimum wage for apprentices set at £2.73, which can be off-putting for those considering joining the scheme. Furthermore, there is some degree of academic snobbery present in the UK regarding such schemes, with commentators viewing apprenticeships as less valuable than university degrees.

While apprenticeships have the potential to boost the economy and improve youth unemployment, public perception and working conditions need to improve to encourage more school leavers to train.