Last week’s unemployment figures showed that the number of 16 to 24 years olds out of work continued to rise, reaching 943,000 in the three months to September. Despite the proviso that more than a quarter of these are in full time education, the latest statistics remind us all of the sheer scale of the number of young people nationally who are not in education, employment or training, the so-called NEETs.
Within this context, it is important to recognise however that without the hard work and dedication of FE colleges and other organisations that are making real inroads into helping this group, the number of NEETs could be a great deal higher. There are many local and regional success stories, especially where innovative projects to help former, current and future NEETs are in place.
At North Warwickshire & Hinckley College we are adopting a proactive approach to helping former and current NEETs in our local area, and working hard to ensure that we retain our student base to reduce the likelihood of any of today’s students falling out of education and training and into unemployment.
The college is the lead partner in an exciting consortium of 14 partners, the On Track project, designed specifically to tackle NEETs in north Warwickshire, which has a far greater concentration of NEETs than the south of the county. The project, which launched two and a half years ago, has gone from strength to strength. Key elements that have contributed to On Track’s success are a proactive and ongoing commitment to the project, clear management and leadership, as well as a responsiveness to specific characteristics of the local NEET population, such as a general unwillingness to travel far from home, a greater ratio of males to females, an interest in developing practical skills and a high proportion of teen parents.
Since the project launched, there have been countless success stories. For example this week at our college’s annual awards ceremony to celebrate our many achievers I was delighted to present our On Track Learner of the Year Award to a young person who after successfully completing an On Track course has moved onto a Teaching Assistant course and secured employment at a local school.
In addition to our work with current and former NEETs, as a college we are very keen to reduce the number of students who risk falling into unemployment by leaving us before they complete their studies. Recent innovations to help us identify and support those students include an ‘at risk database’ which we actively manage to ensure students stay on programme. Personal tutors, working closely with our Student Life team can offer a range of support services including financial, transport, study support and counselling. We also engage with external partners to offer specialist support.
We are not disheartened by the grim headlines but instead we continue to look to the future and adopt a positive approach to how we can best assist the young people in our area who are disengaged from education, training and employment. This includes expanding our On Track initiative to incorporate more partners and reach even higher numbers of 17 and 18 year olds through the programme. The recession will not last forever and we are doing the very best that we can to equip young people with the skills and confidence to steer them towards a brighter future.
Marion Plant, is principal and chief executive of North Warwickshire & Hinckley College