Steve Sugden

As I was completing my previous piece it was announced the government was investing £2.1bn in a work experience scheme for young people, Kick Start. In that piece I reviewed findings from my Master’s dissertation research to illustrate why apprenticeships are, often, not suitable for NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training), with many excluded from these opportunities. 

In part of my research survey I offered respondents alternative options that could support NEETs in taking their first steps into construction. This included both paid work experience, and new job roles through ‘job carving’; both popular options among the respondents. As luck would have it, The Kick Start scheme appears to support these.

The Plan for Jobs 2020 (HM Treasury, 2020) details, albeit briefly, the schemes that the government is proposing. Frustratingly, Kick Start only warrants two paragraphs in that document. To date this is all that has been produced. Borrowing on the baking analogy from the FE News article by Samantha Windett (2020), we have some pastry, but very little filling. 

As before I should stress that these are my own views, based on my research, and in no way represent the views of my current employer. I should also add that while my research focused on the construction industry I am confident that many of the conclusions are relevant to other sectors. 

Paid Work Experience

To summarise Kick Start, it aims to create new, high quality work experience placements for those under 25s most a risk of long-term unemployment, so those classed as NEET. It provides 6-month placements at 25 hours per week paying national minimum rates, with additional funding to cover employers’ additional expenses. Employers are permitted to top-up the pay, or offer additional hours, with the scheme running to December 2021.

The paid work experience programme I proposed in the survey is similar Kick Start, an Intermediate Labour Market (ILM). I worked on one such programme in the early noughties. Participants on the ILM programme were paid £87 per week for 16-17-year and £150 for 18+, for a 30 hour per week six-month placement. That programme also included training during the final two months on placement focusing on job search skills and support for the young people to progress into unsupported work. 

My first concern with Kick Start would be its short duration, 17 months. Anyone who has been involved in setting up an ILM, or similar, will be aware that it takes time to both prepare, and to get the first placements on board. At the time of writing there is no clarity on who will be running the programme and I feel this must be in place before it can begin. Whoever runs this scheme will be responsible for supporting participants and employers prior to, during, and for the young people, post, placement, ensuring that these are new roles, not replacing previously paid employees and they are safe.

Given the best-case scenarios of post-COVID unemployment, as well as any negative impact from Brexit, I would suspect that the Department of Works and Pensions/Jobcentre Plus will have their hands full in coping with the expected increase in claimants, and be stretched to take on this role. Government has said that there will be increases in their staffing but this will not happen overnight. 

As it stands it seems it will be the responsibility of the individual employers to sign up, but who with, and where, is still unclear. Having individual employers responsible for arranging everything themselves is a potential barrier to small business involvement, 99.3% of UK all businesses (UK Government, 2019). An issue often raised during my research was that many do not have the resources to navigate government schemes, let alone support new entrants into employment. This is especially true with NEETs, where there could be personal issues that need support.

My ILM programme worked with both the employers and participants prior to placements, supporting them through the registration process, providing day to day support to both, as well as managing the financial element. In addition, it built links with organisations that could offer more specialised support that many NEETs require.

If small businesses are going to be able to engage with Kick Start this support has to be in place from day one. Additionally, ILMs benefited from the fact that they were localised programmes; the systems necessary to manage on a national basis will be a huge undertaking. 

High Quality Jobs

As with ILMs, the Kick Start jobs must allow the young person to gain insight and develop skills and knowledge to support future employment. This highlights one of the roles of the managing body, to ensure that these new roles offer benefits that will enhance the young person’s employability in the future. Importantly, they must not be a replacement for a role that, in normal circumstances would have been recruited to, including apprenticeships. If it is clear that it should be an apprenticeship, with a new standard available, then it would not be a new job and cannot be permitted. 

Concerns have already been raised over a possible negative impact that these could have on apprenticeship uptake, a worry for training providers who rely, in part, on the income these generate, and also for employers trying to reclaim their apprenticeship levy payments. For many NEETs, the primary target for Kick Start, as previously stated apprenticeships are not an option. This would mean that Kick Start should not have a negative impact on apprenticeships uptake. If anything, these placements could provide future cohorts of apprentices, from a group that had previously been unable to take up these roles. With the experience gained over their 6-month placement they would be more attractive to employers and should warrant a higher pay rate as they will already have gained some skills.  

I previously suggested that the new roles could be created through job carving, identifying activities that form part of a skilled persons day to day work but do not require the skills and knowledge they have gained through their career. These tasks could form the basis of the new job roles working alongside the skilled person to gain insight into the role and developing their employability and personal skills. By the end of the placement they would be able to make an informed decision on whether this was the career for them.

Managing the Money

The Office of National Statistics state that there are around 312,000 NEETs currently looking for work, not including those economically inactive (Office of National Statistics, 2020). Taking the average minimum wage for those under 25 Kick Start will cost approximately £4,160 per placement (not including the NI and Automatic enrolment contributions), so £2.1bn could potential fund around 500,000 placements. This should mean that there is the possibility to provide every current NEET who is looking for employment with a 6-months’ work experience.

Here is another issue, given the short timescale of the scheme, even if it hits the ground running it needs to ensure that all placements are filled by the end of June 2021. This means the scheme will have to place approximately 31,200 placements per month; to provide perspective my programme used to place around 8 people per month.

I previously spoke about why, for many NEETs low wage levels mean that apprenticeships were not an option. This could also be the case for Kick Start, but by allowing employers to top up this scheme it can open the opportunities up to those who previously could not have afforded to take them up. 

The wages on offer through this programme, if they only work 25 hours per week, will be £205 per week for those aged 21-24, £161.25 for 18-20s and £113.75 for 16-18s. It is not yet clear what, if any, benefits the participants will be able to claim. This could present, for those under 21 at least, a major issue in accepting the offer, especially if self-supporting. If the programme is to reach many NEETs top ups will be necessary. 

One concern raised by employers during my research was the mine field that is government funding. Without support many employers will not have the expertise or resources to steer through this. Another reason why it will be vital to have quality programme management.  

Training

Government has said that there needs to be an element of training attached to these new roles and this is an area for caution. Making it look too much like an apprenticeship may dissuade many potential applicants, those with a negative academic experience. There could be some pre-employment training, a short course, to ensure the young person was ready to start. Taking construction as an example this could involve health and safety, leading to a temporary CSCS card, an overview of the industry, and the basics around the tools and materials. This should either be paid, or have no impact on any benefits being claimed.

The jobs will be training in themselves, and my previous experience showed that it is important to allow the young people time to adapt to the world of work. With my ILM the training was held back until the last two months, and then for only half a day per week. That end of placement training fulfils two roles, firstly, it can encourage the employer to offer a full-time role, something I found happened frequently, but even with the best will it must be acknowledged that many employers will not be able to do so. Secondly, where employers were unable to offer future employment, the training assisted the young people to move on to unsupported work. 

So…

If Kick Start is not a robust programme that can meet the needs of employers and participants then I would suggest it is destined to fail. More information is required, and must be in place prior to the scheme starting, to ensure:

  • Those managing the programme understand employers’ and clients’ needs. 
  • The programme supports employers to sign up, develop suitable and beneficial job roles and provides ongoing support.  
  • The work is suitable and safe. 
  • These are new job roles, not backfilling vacancies.
  • Simple employer reimbursements.
  • Provision of pastoral support for the young people, and access to those who can provide specialist support where needed. 
  • Provision of support post-Kick Start for those unable to secure non-supported work by the end of their placement

I would also suggest that it would be sensible to manage these schemes locally, as opposed to having one, national, scheme. 

I do not mean this to be negative, I have seen the life changing benefits paid work experience can bring to individuals, but it has to be right to begin with. It will be more beneficial to hold back launching until systems are put in place and to extend the end date. Rolling out an unready and untested programme will result in a damaging experience, reinforcing negative stereotypes of NEETs, while further disenfranchising the young people. 

Steve Sugden

References

HM Treasury  (2020). Plan for Jobs 2020: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/898421/A_Plan_for_Jobs__Web_.pdf

Office of National Statistics (2020). Young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), UK: May 2020: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peoplenotinwork/unemployment/bulletins/youngpeoplenotineducationemploymentortrainingneet/may2020

Windett, S. (2020). The Chancellor’s announcement is a well baked cake – here’s how to bake it: https://www.fenews.co.uk/featured-article/51371-the-chancellor-s-announcement-is-a-well-baked-cake-here-s-how-to-ice-it

UK Government (2019). Business population estimates for the UK and Regions. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/business-population-estimates-2019/business-population-estimates-for-the-uk-and-regions-2019-statistical-release-html

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