My response to Nick Clegg’s employment plans for NEET young people
So Nick Clegg is turning his attention to the “forgotten” NEETs – the estimated one million young people who are not going to university and not engaged in any other form of education, employment or training.
This is a very welcome move as there are increasingly more young people shunning higher education due to the absurd unaffordability of university tuition fees for most and the fact that it’s no longer a safe bet for landing a job on the other side.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve been working closely with NEET (not in education, employment or training) young people at The Salmon Youth Centre in Bermondsey to help them into employment and it’s been challenging but very rewarding.
NEET young people are a different ‘kettle of fish’ – they’re just as talented with just as much potential, but often the struggle is in their literacy levels, and lack of self-motivation, aspiration, and general know-how” which are all great hindrances in moving forward in any career.
In response to the identified needs of these young people, I am currently in the process of writing my second careers book which will be a complete guide for young jobseekers on how to navigate the job market and get into employment, so it was with great interest that I read of the Government’s new plans for NEETs.
In case you haven’t yet read it online, here is a summary of Nick Clegg’s proposed measures and my response in light of my experience in working with NEET young people:
MEASURE 1: A “one stop shop” website (modelled on the UCAS system) for sixteen-year-olds to plan their next move where university is not an option.
– In theory this is a good idea; however, in practice, most of the young people who can navigate their way around sites like these are those who don’t need the help in the first place! NEETs need different support – face-to-face, hand-holding support is absolutely crucial and these are provided by youth organisations like Salmon with specialist career support staff, career advisers in schools/colleges, which unfortunately have been mostly scrapped, and previously the Connexions service before that too was scrapped. And then of course there’s the secondary issue of access to the internet – though we are in a digital age, it’s still not a given that all young people have easy internet access, whether at home or elsewhere, so that in itself presents more barriers. Additional funding should be given to youth organisations that already do great work in this area to support this new provision.
MEASURE 2: Jobcentres to open their doors to 16 to 17 year-olds for the first time for advice on finding work.
– Jobcentres should actually live up to their names and be JOB centres, as opposed to benefit centres, as they’re currently regarded by most young people! When it comes to looking for jobs, ironically the Jobcentre is not the first place young people think to visit – it’s often the last! Even for those young people on benefit, it’s a place where they have to go every two weeks to get told off by an advisor for not trying hard enough to find work and then threatened with their benefit being cut if things don’t improve by the following appointment. For this aspect of the plan to work, a huge image shakeup of the Jobcentre will be required and part of that may require Jobcentre advisors resuming outreach work and connecting with young people in the places where they already hang out, whether that’s in youth centres or on the streets with mobile units.
MEASURE 3: A trial scheme where 18-21 year olds out of work for six months will lose their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) if they don’t achieve Level 2 in Maths and English and refuse training.
– In my line of work, I’ve come across many young people in this 18-21 age group (and older too) who don’t have their Maths and English, often because they either dropped out of school early or were kicked out of school for bad behaviour. Either way, once they’re out of the system it now effectively becomes no one’s responsibility to make sure these young people get the qualifications they need, so they slip further and further back in society. For the young people on JSA, this trial scheme proposal is fair enough, providing enough support is given to help them through the courses. But then what happens to the young people not signing on? Whose job is it to help them get their basic education? This group must also be considered and made provision for.
MEASURE 4: Work experience for 18-21-year-olds on JSA for six months in a pilot project aimed at building up their confidence.
– Confidence is a big issue with many young people and offering them work experience is one good way to build it up. It’s also a good idea to consider other options that boost their confidence before they get in to work. At Salmon, we recognised this need and developed a programme called the “Future and Hope Employment Project” (aka “FHEP”) where we teach young people public speaking skills as a way to increase their confidence and communication skills, and provide additional support through one-to-one mentors who are guide them through the early stages of finding work and up to their first six months in the job. We are in the early stages of the programme but it’s proving an effective method so far.
MEASURE 5: Schools will be ordered to provide much better careers advice…
– As I already mentioned, schools and colleges have a crucial role to play in guiding young people in their careers as they provide that face-to-face support most young people seek and appreciate. In order to effectively carry out this role, schools should be given (or set aside) a specific budget to employ specialist career advisers – like they do in universities. What young people don’t need, and I mean this respectfully, is over-worked, out-of-touch with the employment world teachers doubling up in this role – it’s not good for the kids, it’s not good for the teachers, and ultimately it’s not good for the economy.
MEASURE 6: Schools will have a duty to develop close links with local employers, who could sit on governing bodies.
– Linking schools with local employers is one of those common sense ideas that are so simple and so obvious that you wonder how we missed it for so long! Since the school system is pretty much geared to churning out employees (that’s another debate altogether!) it makes sense for this partnership to happen, and the sooner the better. Additionally, compulsory one-week school work placements for Year 10 students (14/15 year olds) should be back on the agenda. This is a great way for young people to start discovering what they might want to do as a career in future. To this day I still remember the two work experience placements I had at that age – one in a primary school, the other in a solicitor’s office. Both convinced me that becoming a teacher or a lawyer was not the right career path for me!
So in conclusion, it’s great that the government are thinking more about how to help young people in employment, particularly NEET young people who need it the most.
The key to making the measures work lies in schools taking their rightful place in being the first point of call for young people to get help in this area; the Jobcentre undergoing a massive image – and practice – shakeup to encourage more young people to see it as an ally; and local youth organisations being sufficiently funded and supported to continue to carry out great work in helping young people who have nowhere else to turn.
What do you think…?