Blog: Craig Smith on the new youth employment initiative

2 Jun 2014

On Tuesday me and my colleagues Will and Matt were invited to a Q&A with the deputy prime minister and the minister for employment Esther McVey. This was a real chance for us as young people with a range of different experiences to quiz the DPM around the issue of youth un-employment. This was especially important as that very day the coalition government had launched a pilot initiative to give 16 to 17 year olds support in a bid to tackle youth unemployment.

Outside and inside there was a bit of a media frenzy due to Nick Clegg’s previous day losses in the local elections and once he had wrestled past, played some pool in front of some photographers he managed to grab a cup of tea and grace us with his presence.

Nick and Esther started by explaining a new initiative that is currently being piloted in Lewisham, Norfolk, Hertfordshire and Sheffield where young people aged 16-17 would have access to ‘work coaches’ in the creatively titled ‘Helping People Find and Stay in Work’ scheme.

Nick said: “For the first time 16 and 17-year-olds that need help to find work or training will have access to Jobcentres where they will get tailored support from a work coach.”

The support on offer will include work experience, work taster courses, pre-apprenticeship support and meetings with potential employers to get a window into the job market.

The trained work coaches will help young people navigate the wide array of services on offer and tap into local employment and training opportunities.

The scheme comes at a time when unemployment is falling but still remains high for young people, particularly those who are NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training).

The majority consensus in the room from young people was that this is a good idea. However, I raised the question around the quality of information and advice guidance. Nick agreed and said that this is the issue he has heard time and time again. He explained that ‘work coaches’ would be offering tailored advice and would have experience to best advise young people and that the whole host of support surrounding this scheme would give young people lots of different experiences.

Many people expressed how they felt there was no consistency when it came to current information, advice and guidance, particularly at job centres where it would depend on ‘who you got’. Nick said that these ‘work coaches’ would receive in depth training for them to be able to provide a consistent and coherent service to all young people.

Nick and Esther both agreed that work experience was vital to get young people into good habits. However, one young person said if they felt it was so good why is it no longer compulsory in schools as many of them don’t feel it beneficial. Their response was that this government has created lots of work experience placements and that 90% of young people are off benefits within a year.

Some also said that an advisor wasn’t enough and that on benefits it was difficult to pay to get to job interviews even if you get one, as well as qualifications. On young person, Louis, said they would like to see some sort of loan scheme which they would pay back when they found employment.

Many also agreed that in essence we should be cutting out the middle man and instead we should be directed straight to the employer for advice and guidance. To this Esther responded that she herself had wanted to enter the media industry but found it difficult. But she was proactive and went out knocking on doors until she got somewhere and both she and Nick expressed ‘there shouldn’t be a reliance entirely on the state’.

One very enthusiastic young person asked “why can’t young people work in the job centre as they would be able to advice from a young person’s perspective.” Esther said why not apply? Find out if there are jobs. I would maybe like to see how the government could explore this a little further in order for advisors to better understand young people’s situations.

Many questioned whether we should be starting even earlier than year 10/11 but Nick’s responses was that many young people are unaware of what they want to do at an earlier age.

I, personally, am sceptical. I, myself have never set foot in a jobcentre and for me as a young person I feel that there is a stigma surrounding it that would prevent me from entering its doors. In addition, I still don’t feel that providing work experience is the best way. I agree with Nick and Esther that young people should be pro-active and it’s my feeling that if you want to enter that industry that you should go out there and speak to people who already work within it. Lots of good schemes like run sessions with these professionals as well as offering specific, tailored work experience which is a great taster.

I do agree, however, that by offering something outside school, it enables young peole who are NEET or who have left school to not ‘fall by the wayside’. I like that they both talked about working with local organisations such as youth clubs to engage young people.

If the scheme is successful it will be rolled out across England.

Craig Smith, National Youth Agency Youth Work Apprentice