The Work and Pensions Committee report says the Government's new youth employment programme, the Youth Obligation, must be unlinked from Universal Credit. The link makes an important source of employment support for young people dependent on the postcode lottery of Universal Credit's troubled and much delayed rollout. Given the strength of evidence of the importance of getting unemployed young people into work quickly, the Government should roll out the Youth Obligation on a more ambitious timescale from April 2017, prioritising areas with high levels of youth unemployment.

Achieving "full employment"

The Government has set a goal of achieving "full employment" in this Parliament. That will mean ensuring that all young people are in employment or education - either "earning or learning". Good progress has been made on youth unemployment in recent years, but the youth unemployment rate is still more than double the general unemployment rate, and some groups of young people remain particularly vulnerable to unemployment. Youth unemployment rates vary starkly across educational attainment and ethnic and social groups. Even when unemployment is temporary, it risks creating a permanent scar on young people's future careers. The Committee says young people constitute a special case; one that warrants targeted support.

Supporting young people that lack requisite skills

Some young people are ill-prepared for work and lack the requisite skills to find employment on leaving school. For young people who have left education and are unemployed, support programmes delivered in and via JCP - for example, through initiatives such as the Work Programme and Youth Obligation - can be vital in helping them to prepare for and find work

Effective collaboration between JCP, employers, schools and apprenticeship providers

JCP must work more effectively with employers, schools, colleges and apprenticeship providers to understand local vocational opportunities, and to ensure that young people have the skills and attributes needed to fill them

Increase the number of apprenticeships to reduce youth unemployment

There is an urgent need for careers advice and guidance that emphasises the value of vocational education and employment; something that the Jobcentre Plus Support for Schools programme could play an important role in providing. The Government's aim of achieving 3 million new apprenticeship starts by 2020 is ambitious and welcome. Increasing the numbers of young people in apprenticeships could further reduce youth unemployment, while setting young people on the path to a rewarding career. It will also be crucial in addressing skills shortages in the UK economy, particularly post-Brexit.

Avoid counter-productive placements

Young people on the Youth Obligation are expected to move onto one of three options - an apprenticeship, traineeship, or JCP-arranged work placement - if they have not found work after six months on the programme. The Committee says Work Coaches should not mandate young people to attend placements that are not appropriate for the stage that they are at in moving towards work. Such placements could be counter-productive for both the young person and for the placement host.

Improve JCP's image among young people

JCP has a poor image among some young people and is in some cases seen as intimidating and unwelcoming - particularly by those who need its support most. This may discourage young people from engaging with JCP or even lead to them avoiding its services altogether. While this saves on benefit payments, it cuts off access to employment support and opportunities. Work Coaches in JCPs must be better prepared to offer targeted, timely, specialist support, tailored to the needs of different groups. If I is to achieve its ambition of full employment amongst young people, the Department must take steps to revamp JCP's image and young people's perceptions of the support that it has to offer. Government is not using the most obvious ways of reaching young people, through social media campaigns for example, well enough.

Chair's comment

 Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

The Government should prepare to implement the Youth Obligation in all Jobcentres and be ready to offer much better targeted, specialist support, accompanied with better access to apprenticeships and traineeships and improving its image among the young people who need it most. Young people must not be forced to take counter-productive, ill-suited placements just to tick a benefits box - this will only damage their prospects and the reputation of the programme among young people and business alike.

"All the evidence points to the importance of getting young people into work quickly, otherwise they are at great risk of getting stuck in long-term unemployment and facing impediments to life chances and economic dynamism. It therefore makes absolutely no sense to link a potentially very good programme to the Universal Credit roll-out, especially at it bears no relation to the areas where youth unemployment is worst. The Government must ensure that young people's access to this potentially valuable programme is not determined by postcode lottery, or dependent on the repeatedly delayed Universal Credit roll-out.

Sector Response

Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive, ERSA comments:

Kirstie McHugh ERSAToday’s report is welcome, not least because the Youth Obligation is due to roll out in three days without any government consultation. Frontline experts have been denied a formal say in government proposals which will impact the life chances of young people across the UK. This is unacceptable and the Committee’s recommendations, reached through listening to young people and experts, should therefore be agreed.
“With details of the Youth Obligation still unknown, despite the April deadline, ERSA has significant concerns regarding Jobcentre Plus's capacity to effectively deliver the Youth Obligation in UC full service areas, let alone all jobcentres. Furthermore, it is vital that the government clarifies any mandation attached to the work placements as a matter of urgency, ensuring that young people participate in a high quality and positive, not punitive, programme.
“The report recognises the importance of specialist external support, which ERSA knows successfully supports young people to achieve positive outcomes. The government must make this a priority in the new youth employment programme.

Mark Dawe, CEO, AELP Comments:

We welcome the committee’s call for more apprenticeship opportunities for young people and the MPs have done a valuable service in reminding us that there are still too many people out there who should know better telling young people that apprenticeships are a second choice option.  For all the committee’s observations about Jobcentre Plus going into schools, the Baker clause in the Technical and Further Education Bill actually offers the best solution for improving awareness with schools being mandated to admit local apprenticeship training providers with their employer clients onto the premises to explain first-hand the benefits of the programme.  AELP and its local provider networks should be given a central role in delivering this - they have nearly all the employers and all the apprentices by definition.
"The report doesn’t address the worrying issue of funding apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year olds under the current levy reforms.  Employers are saying to training providers that the government’s additional incentives of £1,000 to the employer and another £1,000 to the provider will make little difference to the negative impact of the new funding rates, especially for the higher cost, higher level apprenticeships, and the basic costs are higher anyway for the youngest age group.  Currently only about 6% of school leavers after GCSEs become apprentices and unless the funding becomes more realistic, this situation is unlikely to improve.
‘We appreciate the MPs covering Traineeships in their report.  Start numbers in this vital programme are actually falling compared to a year ago and as part of the social mobility agenda the government really must show its commitment in terms of funding growth so that there are more Traineeships to offer a stepping stone to an apprenticeship.  








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