Streamlined Approach Is Needed To Help NEETs Into Employment

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By Lord Rowlands CBE, President of the National Training Federation for Wales

An issue that continues to exercise the best minds in Wales is how to engage with young people not in education, employment or training, commonly known as NEETs.

The NTfW has recently produced a paper for the National Assembly for Wales’ Enterprise and Learning Committee’s Inquiry into NEETs, which makes several recommendations key to addressing this problem in Wales. The latest available figures show that there are around 14,000 young people who are categorised as NEET in Wales.

One of the key tools to tackle this problem is the Skill Build programme. The youth element of Skill Build has evolved over many years primarily to meet the needs of young people that do not return to school sixth form, go to college or have failed to secure employment. In effect it’s a safety net to support young people.

The evolution of this programme, particularly to address the NEET problem, has resulted in Skill Build encouraging young people to progress to higher levels of learning, especially apprenticeships and employment.

The effect that Skill Build can make can be seen in Blaenau Gwent, one of the most deprived areas in Wales. When the Assembly increased Skill Build places the number of young people in the NEET group reduced from 9.1% to 6.6% between 2008 and 2009.

As youth unemployment rises during the economic downturn, unless Skill Build is more strategically used then the NEET problem will significantly grow. Therefore, a co-ordinated, strategic approach is required from all the agencies involved.

The strategy must be to encourage skills development via Skill Build to get people into jobs via JobCentre Plus and retain them via apprenticeships and other employed status work based learning programmes.

‘Collaboration and partnership’ needs to move on from rhetoric, as it’s essential that we all work closely together. We need to identify NEETs and establish an effective intervention strategy that makes better use of taxpayers’ money to deliver sustained engagement in skills training, learning and employment.

To achieve this, we believe funding and programmes need to be streamlined and services joined up in a holistic and inclusive way. Combining various funding streams into a flexible national Skill Build programme will create a critical mass that will allow more innovative and complementary activities to be delivered to engage, retain and progress young people.

The NTfW is recommending 2,000 additional Skill Build places specifically targeted at 16 to 18 year old NEETs to provide immediate opportunities to reduce the cohort by September 2011. We also want 2,000 more apprenticeship places for under-25 year olds to permit progression opportunities from Skill Build.

Challenging national targets will need be set to follow the increased investment in Skill Build to reduce the volume of NEET young people by 50% by September 2011. It’s also essential that we have a system of matching young people with youth vacancies..

Likely to be a contentious issue is our recommended in-depth review of schools and further education funding, which would ensure that funding follows the learner in any collaborative arrangement with schools, colleges and work based learning providers. This approach already exists in work based learning and further education and ensures that funding follows the learner.

We also support the provision of a time-limited wage subsidy, ideally tapering as the young person becomes economically important to businesses, to aid their progression into employment and apprenticeships following Skill Build.

We awaiting with interest the Welsh Assembly’s response to our recommendations.

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