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30 September 2014

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Make the youth offer work in practice for all young people

Yesterday at Conservative Party Conference, David Cameron announced that young people 18-21, out of work/training over six months will be given an apprenticeship or will need to do community work to continue receiving Job Seekers Allowance (JSA).

I was not hugely surprised by the policies laid out, especially having this year contributed to the Centre for Social Justice’s (CSJ) report The Journey To Work which argues for, amongst many other recommendations, to improve the lives of young people, a youth offer not dissimilar to that laid out yesterday.

The rhetoric and language used to describe young people looking for work, is not one that sits well with my experience; the perception that “finish school, leave home, sign on and get a flat through housing benefit” does not take into consideration the barriers that young people face in their journey to employment, and that every persons experience of unemployment and the assets they bring to the world of work is different.

A move towards creating opportunities for all young people through apprenticeships, and to gain skills through community activity, is certainly a positive one. However, our experience from delivering Talent Match London, tells me that we need to question the way in which this goal is best attained.

Community Activity

Firstly, the young people we meet want to work. Using support from the third sector as a "carrot and stick" approach cannot compensate for this, and in cases where young people need time and support to explore their options and to tackle anything preventing them progressing, some may need to claim benefits to avoid falling into poverty and to survive. In my experience, in many cases they are picking up the emotional and skills tab for an education system that has failed them.

The premise that solving unemployment by driving down the number of claimants is also flawed, as there are many young people not claiming benefits, but who are not in education, employment or training, and are not accessing the support that is available to them. On the Talent Match London programme, over 50% of unemployed young people are not claiming any benefits, and according to research by the Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion(CESI), there are 40,000 young people across London, who are not in education training or employment, who are not claiming any out-of-work benefits. There are many different reasons they may be disengaged from the system and avoid accessing services and support they need to start their journey into employment. Services, not young people, can be hard to reach.

Therefore, the Community Activity making up the youth offer must  be personalised; the opportunity needs to be tailored to the needs and abilities of the young person, with consideration for their ultimate career goal, to ensure the opportunity is sustainable. Those young people furthest away from the labour market need more than English and maths to progress and any community activity should be quality assured to provide this personalised support, otherwise we risk even more young people walking away from a system designed to support both them and the economy they will grow up into. This personalised approach needs to be supported by consistent one-to-one support from a trusted adult, with whom they can build a strong and trusting relationship.

Community Activity should also recognise what many are already doing to improve their communities and lives and increase their employability. London Youth’s Build-it programme for instance, offers young people the chance to learn skills and access training, work experience and employment opportunities within the regeneration of their local communities. Many of our programmes also use peer recruitment as a tool to engage other young people who would not normally take part in opportunities, and therefore young people are supporting with outreach and making a real contribution to the lives of other young people in their communities.  

Employer Engagement

We also need to get better at bridging the gap between young people and employers. Not all young people are leaving school with enough work experience and the right skills to enter an apprenticeship or a traineeship, and we believe that provision for those young people should still offer the right opportunities to learn, network and prove themselves to an employer.

This morning we held a breakfast for employers across London who are interested in creating opportunities for young people, such as offering work experience or opportunities to gain fulfilling long-term employment within their organisations. At this event, we shared learning from our work on the experiences, skills and interests of young people and worked together with them and employers to bring the two together. We know from these regular events and the work of all those organisations delivering Talent Match London in their local communities that yes, we need more apprenticeships, and many employers are open, willing and able to offer these – but we must also create the connections – the partnerships that allow young people to access these opportunities at a local and pan-London level.

London Youth can see that providing opportunities for young people to take part in community activity and apprenticeships is a great idea in theory, but cannot be successfully implemented without the individual needs of the young person at its core. There also needs to be the funding and provision to support voluntary and community organisations to provide young people with these opportunities – to ensure young people have realistic expectations of work and that employers have realistic expectations of young people. Supporting them to work in partnership, to share their expertise and resources needs to be a key consideration.

Steph Taylor is Head of Talent Match London at London Youth

Picture: Crown copyright