On youth unemployment, Nick Clegg’s promise & the Youth Contract

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Promises, promises, promises… I do not know who first uttered those words, to what effect and in what context, but it seems apt as I begin to gather my thoughts about the latest pronouncements by our Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg on youth unemployment.

First, I must confess to being a tad discontented that in my search for a particular speech by Nick Clegg to promote the Youth Contract, I am being driven again and again to the Liberal Democrats & a plethora of websites. Hmm and ho-hum. It seems little has changed as our third party cling to the cloak of respectability, but seem aggrieved to credit the speech to our Coalition Government.

The Deputy Prime Minister is today [Thursday 5th January 2012] hosting a roundtable discussion with business leaders, including senior representatives from some of the UK’s top businesses including Marks and Spencer, John Lewis, BT and Asda, to hear from them about how they offer young people work, training and apprenticeships in their organisations and discuss the Youth Contract. Nick Clegg will also launch a new website – dwp.gov.uk/youth-contract for employers across Britain to sign up to the Youth Contract.

So, I read on to discover a little more –

Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government are determined to tackle the growing problem of youth unemployment, which Nick Clegg described as “an economic waste and a slow burn disaster”. The aim of the Youth Contract is to ensure that all jobless young people are earning or learning again before long-term damage is done. Over three years, the Youth Contract will provide at least 410,000 new work places for 18 to 24-year-olds into work.

I ponder at these words and consider – are not the Conservatives also determined to tackle the growing problem of youth unemployment? In this choice of words there is much that disquiets, for what it says about the uneasy relationship between our Coalition partners.

For your perusal, here is Nick Clegg’s own site and comment on the Youth Contract – http://www.dpm.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/news/business-leaders-back-youth-contract

Now, I digress and must return to my concerns.

Further details of the Youth Contract may be found via this newly established website – http://dwp.gov.uk/youth-contract/

There are many promises being made in the Youth Contract. These include –

  1. 410,000 18 – 24 year olds will be helped into the workplace
  2. £1billion funding will be committed to tackling youth unemployment
  3. Wage susbidies will be offered to get 160,000 young people into paid work and 260,000 into work experience placements
  4. At least 20,000 more incentive payments will encourage employers to take on young apprentices

Promises aside, the stick that enforces will also ensure that –

  1. Those young people who do not engage with the programme will be made to attend work training with Jobcentre staff
  2. Anyone who drops out of a work experience placement or subsidised job will lose their benefits

In my work within special educational needs, it is possible to see first hand the impact of youth unemployment, of the protracted effects of long-term unemployment, and of the great strides that need to be taken if we are even partly to understand what may unite our young, unemployed and most vulnerable members of society, with the world of work.

There is much information available on our NEET population, one useful link being – http://www.education.gov.uk/researchandstatistics/statistics/a00199328/dfe-neet-statistics-quarterly-brief-quarter-3-2011

From this and many sources of information, we know that, at October 2011 –

Young people with special educational needs are three times more likely to be out of school, work, or training than their peers, official figures suggest.

More than a third (39 per cent) of 19-year-olds with a statement of SEN are “NEET” – not in education, employment or training – according to figures published by the Department for Education.

In comparison, 12 per cent of 19-year-olds with no special educational needs are considered NEET.

More than a fifth of pupils in England (21 per cent), around 1.67 million in total, have special educational needs

My concerns range far and wide, when I consider the Youth Contract and its likely impact on young people with SEN/LDD. In an endeavour to narrow my focus, I will list my concerns as thus –

  1. There has been little focus on the role of schools and colleges to champion the Youth Contract through its publicity material or Nick Clegg’s focus with leading UK business. There is a need to forge greater links between education and employment or training and it seems a folly not to invite key players to the table;
  2. There are inherent assumptions about the capacity of Jobcentres and their workforce to meet and address the needs of the majority of its clientele, those with special educational needs and/or disabilities. From my own experience, I would say that many are remarkably ill-equipped to understand and meet the needs of our most vulnerable young people;
  3. There are few real incentives still for employers to take on those young people for whom employment will create an additional burden, in place of those who may be equipped with skills to begin employment immediately. Those companies and businesses who regard highly their social responsibilities towards all members of society do remarkable work with young people with SEN, but there is insufficient support for all businesses to play their part;
  4. There remains an inadequate understanding about those who comprise the majority of our NEET population between politicians and business. Those who are best placed to understand in intimate detail individual barriers and constraints to employment or training, remain in our schools and colleges – those former teachers and mentors of our vulnerable young. Whilst they remain out in the cold, and do not have a seat at the table, discussions about how we improve this drastic state of affairs will be limited to speculation and the wavering of our proverbial stick.
  5. There is a need for politicians and our Government to take more seriously the role that crafts and traditional trades can play in regenerating our local communities and re-engaging our young with meaningful employment and training opportunities. The make-shift world of engineered opportunities that Jobcentres excel at, really affords no great gain, least of all for those young people who know that yet again, their real interests, skills and motivation matter little in the games that people play.

There is so much that I could say, always so much that concerns me about the direction successive governments take in their drive to resolve the issues of the day.

For my part, it seems to me we must look beyond the box, and raise our heads to see what is the problem, who are most affected, what are the likely outcomes of our actions, who do we harm the most in our policy initiatives, where might our solutions lie?

An organization I’ve been made aware of via LinkedIn with a similar concern at heart is – http://www.educationandemployers.org/about-the-taskforce.aspx

Finally, I will close with a reference to the wonderful work of the Craft Council and direct you to their site. It is inspiring stuff.  Now, why were not this body at the roundtable with Nick Clegg?

http://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/about-us/press-room/view/2011/over-365000-embrace-craft-in-2011?from=/about-us/press-room/

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