A third of employers don’t know about it, and a third have no interest in it. That’s the damning judgement on the Government’s Youth Contract employment scheme, launched in April (at a cost of £1bn) to try and reverse the ever-growing numbers of young unemployed people in the UK.

New research of 600 employers by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) found four out of five are not involved in the programme, under which incentives are paid to those hiring a young person.

REC Chief Executive, Kevin Green, said:

“It’s clear that the Government’s good intentions on youth employment are not hitting the mark if four out of five employers are not taking up the opportunity of a financial incentive to take on a young worker.

“It’s especially hard for young people because in a challenging economic climate employers tend to hire on the basis of experience rather than potential.

“So as more young people leave school and college to enter the already competitive labour market, it’s vital that any Government interventions are successful in supporting them into work.

“It seems from this survey that the Government isn’t getting the message across to employers about why and how they should take part in initiatives such as the Youth Contract.”

The Youth Contract is supposed to provide nearly half a million new opportunities for 18-24-year-olds, including apprenticeships and voluntary work experience placements, and offers employers a wage incentive of up to £2,275 for hiring a young person. Just 22% of employers said they intended to take on a young worker and benefit from the funding on offer.

This news comes in the same week that new figures published by the Department for Education show that one in six 16-24-year-olds in England (968,000) are not in education, employment or training (NEET).

A Government spokeswoman said that the number of NEETs was still too high, adding it was spending a record £7.5bn on education and training for 16-to-19-year-olds.

“As part of the Youth Contract, we are spending £126m over the next three years on extra targeted support for the 55,000 16- and 17-year-olds most in need of education and training,” she said.

“Our education reforms will create a world-class education system that will equip young people properly for both higher education and skilled, sustainable employment.”

Shadow Education Minister, Karen Buck, said the figures showed a jump of 100,000 young people not in education, employment or training since the 2010 General Election and that the Government was allowing the talents of too many young people to go to waste.

“Now more than ever, we need to ensure our young people have the right skills, experience and opportunities to progress in education or the workplace.

“But the prolonged double-dip recession and the lack of support to help young people stay in education, or find work and training, is making that impossible,” she added.