A British businessman – whose wealth is estimated at £1.5 billion – has suggested that the minimum wage should be slashed for youngsters, to make them “a much more attractive value proposition” to employers. Failure to offer companies financial incentives for hiring young people will result in “a new society of young social scroungers,” he said.

Graduate Fog is getting sick and tired of employers – especially billionaire ones – telling today’s young people that at £2.60 to £6.08 an hour (depending on their age) they are too expensive to hire. Entrepreneur John Caudwell – who earned a bonus £100m earlier this year when his remaining stake in Phones 4 U was sold – claimed a three-point plan needed to be put in place, fast, to tackle youth unemployment by making youngsters “massively more attractive” to firms. He said:

“This is a huge crisis. It’s controversial, but somebody’s got to say it, so I will: A combination of the government considering temporarily lowering the minimum wage, considering changing employment laws, and significantly increasing incentives to employers to take on youngsters, is crucial to driving a turnaround in youth employment levels and making employing young workers a much more attractive value proposition.”

“A great deal of this issue is nothing to do with the attitude of the majority of youngsters — it’s to do with the value proposition to employers, and making employing youngsters attractive to employers.

“Employers must be incentivised to take on young people — employers know what works for them, so the government should listen.

“The government should also consider temporarily lowering the minimum wage, particularly for apprentices, so that more employers can afford to take on more young people for vocational training.”

Apprentices currently receive £2.60 an hour. Tell us, Mr Caudwell – how much lower would you like their wages to go? He also backed controversial calls for so-called “sack the slacker” legislation which would make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers. Last week, this idea was unanimously condemned by Graduate Fog’s users, who saw it as a ploy to gain yet more power for bosses – leaving workers of all ages with fewer rights. But Caudwell said:

“The government should also take a long, hard, look at legislation that protects workers’ rights early in their jobs or careers — and consider changing the law to make it a lot easier to hire and fire. The employer is then taking less of a risk in taking somebody on who they may consider to be borderline viable, and those looking for work who may not otherwise have a chance get a chance.

“The combination of these three measures would hopefully motivate employers to create jobs, and get youngsters doing something rather than falling into a life-approach of institutionalised unemployment.

“If we don’t do this, we will end up with a desperate lack of skills in the future when the economy picks up, and, in addition, a new society of young social scroungers.

“Whether society likes it or not, the simple fact is that we have to make it attractive for employers to take youngsters on by taking a radical approach. If I was 16 again, then I’d rather be earning something and learning a skill or a trade than wasting my life away, and I’m sure that stands for a lot of young people.”

Mr Caudwell’s comments came direct to Graduate Fog in a press release, in which his people stressed that Caudwell himself “was taken on as an apprentice on around one-tenth of the £30 per week national average wage in 1970 – £3 11s and 6d a week, roughly half the 2011 equivalent — and was one of 200 apprentices taken on to learn a trade at the same time.” Are they trying to make out that young people have never had it so good?

While politicians bow and scrape to employers, young people are making up their own minds about whether these companies really do deserve financial incentives for taking on – and training up – young staff. Don’t they feel any responsibility towards developing the potential of their junior people themselves?

Many of you even accuse some employers of taking advantage of youth unemployment. Yesterday’s revelations by the Guardian that young workers were being forced to work for 30 hours for no pay at Tesco, Poundland and Sainsbury’s or risk losing their benefits as part of the new “Work Programme” was met with universal disgust.

Is the truth that many big companies are using this crisis as a way to keep their profits nice and high – and their bosses’ bonuses nice and fat? From our Pay Your Interns campaign we have seen a rush of greedy employers only too happy to exploit their young unpaid interns – and increasingly adverts for ‘graduate’ jobs require skills and experience that no recent graduate could possibly have, so employers gain a vastly over-qualified worker for a measly salary (often NMW). From where we’re standing, it looks like employers have abdicated all responsibility towards encouraging or training the next generation – pushing it on to the government and young people themselves. Meanwhile, super-rich bosses like Mr Caudwell just want to keep taking something for nothing.

Should the minimum wage be slashed for young people? Or should companies feel greater responsibility towards training their young staff – and paying them a decent wage for their work?

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