Next, the FTSE 100 high-street fashion chain, is set to give up to 1,000 young people a chance of a career in retail as part of a groundbreaking apprenticeship scheme.
The retailer, run by chief executive Lord Wolfson, is in the process of hiring 500 young people, but might double that number if there are enough suitable candidates. The scheme is a first for Next and will please the Government, which has been seeking to boost the number of apprenticeship schemes.
The coalition has set aside £500m to help tackle Neets – the one million young people classed as not in education, employment or training in the UK. "What the Government has done has been very sensible, but it is now down to the private sector to implement it," said Lord Wolfson.
He added that it will not be possible to judge the scheme's success for at least six months, when the performance of those recruited can be measured.
"The key objective here is to get these people really good in their jobs and we hope they will have a career in retail, but it is very early," Lord Wolfson added.
Next came up with the idea last November, and began work with Pera Training, which has worked with Jaguar Land Rover on a similar apprenticeship scheme.
John Hayes, the skills minister, said: "This form of training has been long established in manufacturing, with recent schemes announced at companies like Jaguar Land Rover and defence contractor Thales. Over the past year ... the number of apprenticeships has risen by 113,000 – the largest rise in the UK's history."
The standard apprenticeship wage stands at £2.50 an hour, though Next's scheme will, ultimately, pay more. Next's programme has been supported by the National Apprenticeship Service and will provide an NVQ Level 2 apprenticeship, with those completing it qualifying for a bonus.
Lord Wolfson said that retail is a business where many directors and chief executives started on the shop floor. "You don't have to have an academic background to succeed in retail. This is about getting away from the idea that you need a degree to have a successful career. We hope to show that someone training from the age of 17 without a degree can succeed."
Other retailers have been involved in bringing careers to young people, despite the sector often being blamed for only providing part-time, unskilled work. The soon-to-be-open Stratford City shopping centre in east London, being developed by Westfield, will house a retail academy run by the training body Seetec. And Topshop boss Sir Philip Green created the Fashion Retail Academy in 2006.
Lord Wolfson said that Next is also looking at apprenticeships in distribution and warehousing as possibilities for the future.