From education to employment

More young people than ever are turning their lives around through the Work Programme

You may not have picked this up in the papers last week, but something came out that the media isn’t generally interested in – good news.

Statistics were released on the labour market and the Work Programme, which helps long term unemployed jobseekers into sustainable employment. The figures show that the Work Programme is continuing to perform well and that UK unemployment has reduced again. Indeed since the beginning of the programme, unemployment has reduced from levels of over 8% to 5.5% now.

The Work Programme has now supported over 731,000 long term unemployed into work, with 459,370 in sustained employment (generally of six months plus). Young people have fared particularly well, with over 178,000 18 to 24 year olds having found at least one job while on the scheme – that is over 4000 young people in the last three months alone. Tackling youth unemployment is particularly important, as the repercussions can last a lifetime, both in terms of lack of confidence and skills development, but also in long-term suppression of wages. It is positive that the government has committed to tackling this issue with a commitment to ensuring that all young people are either earning or learning by 2017.

While youth unemployment is reducing, we need to do more if we are to dramatically reduce the levels of young people out of work. One of the key areas that needs to be improved is advice services. Government must ensure that high quality careers advice and guidance is essential to help young people make informed decisions about their futures. Young people need support during the transition from school or further education into the workplace. They need to understand what opportunities are out there, and what paths they need to take if they are to work towards their employment goals.

There needs to be appropriate and timely access to training that will ensure young people can acquire the skills they need to move into a job that suits their interests and will allow them to progress in their careers. Entry level jobs can provide a good starting point into the employment market and fit around studies, however young people should be supported to aspire to greater financial independence and career progression.

Nonetheless, training and advice are useless without the focused support of employers. Employers need to be encouraged to hire young people and supported to meet the additional requirements of working with a young person, who may not have the experience to start performing highly from the get go.

Finding a job for most people is life changing, instilling confidence and helping to end the isolation that unemployment can bring. Seth, 22 from St Breward, was unemployed for a year after failing to find work following a temporary shop assistant contract. Being out of work left him feeling depressed and anti-social. Through the Work Programme he was referred to Working Links. With support from his personal consultant, Seth enrolled on an employability course, designed to give him the skills needed to re-enter the jobs market and, in particular, enhance his confidence levels which had reached such a low level.

The course helped build his confidence and Seth proactively inquired at his local Co-operative store about vacancies. They had a position and he was immediately offered an interview, where he impressed his new managers and was offered the job. He said: “Working Links helped me by building up my confidence and to make friends and be more sociable – they really helped me out of my depression phase.”

This is just one story out of the 178,000 young people who have moved into work. In terms of numbers, the Work Programme is hitting targets for young people, but, more than that, it is supporting people to change their lives and help them to build a more positive future for themselves and their families. We need to build on this good work and help the government realise its ambition for all young people to be earning or learning in the next two years.

Sam Windett is head of policy and communications at ERSA

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