There are now 80% of businesses in the UK employing at least one young person (aged 16-24), according to the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

The figure is up on last year when less than three-quarters (73%) employed at least one young person.

Launched during National Apprenticeship Week, the report also highlights that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are lagging behind larger organisations when it comes to offering opportunities and engaging with young people.

The survey of more than 850 HR professionals, conducted as part of the CIPD’s Learning to Work programme, found that less than six in ten (58%) of SMEs currently employ anyone aged 16-24, compared to more than nine in ten large organisations (93%).

Although the percentage of employers that currently offer entry-level opportunities aimed at young people has substantially increased over the last 12 months, up to 76% from 65% in 2013, SMEs are offering far fewer opportunities.

The number of employers that report offering apprenticeships has risen dramatically to almost half (47%), compared to less than a third (31%) at the end of 2013. However, SMEs are less than half as likely to offer apprenticeships, with only 26% reporting that they do compared to 62% of larger organisations.

Work experience is the most popular entry-level opportunity offered by employers; 64% of larger organisations currently offer placements compared to 39% of SMEs.

The number of graduate schemes offered by SME employers is currently very low, with only 11% of SMEs stating that they offer them, compared to 51% of large employers.

SMEs are also less likely to engage with local schools and colleges. Currently over two-thirds (70%) of large employers work with local schools by doing things like arranging work place visits, offering work experience or providing volunteers to give talks in local schools, whereas just over a third (38%) of SMEs do the same.

Katerina Rüdiger, Head of Volunteering and Employability Campaigns at the CIPD, said: “As employment levels continue to improve it’s encouraging to see that more organisations are employing young people and developing their own talent pipelines by doing so. Large employers in particular are more likely to offer a range of entry level opportunities compared to this time last year, including Apprenticeships, graduate schemes and work experience placements. Many are also taking other steps to help young people, such as engaging with local schools and colleges, which shows a genuine commitment to supporting education to work transitions.

“However, as a high proportion of jobs in the UK are created by SMEs, it’s essential that they are also equipped to bring in and nurture younger workers and have the information they need to create a clear youth engagement strategy. Only once they too are engaged with tackling youth unemployment can we be confident that the problem has been truly cracked.”

By Daniel Hunter