There is a catch-22 situation facing us with stuttering economic growth and almost a million 16-to-24-year-old NEETs in the first quarter of this year.  There are people of all backgrounds seeking work and there can’t be many who, if not concerned for themselves, aren’t mindful of a friend, colleague or family member who has been affected.

From the government down, there is a great push to give NEETs a better chance of finding new jobs, and to develop their skills and confidence to compete for vacancies.  This is where the difficulty lies.  In pressured times, many employers are more focused than ever on productivity and results.  So, to invest in recruitment and training, they want confidence it will pay off and expect a certain skill level in place from the start.

With the funding market changing, we also know from talking with learning providers the importance of a joined up approach to meet these challenges.  We must make full use of available funding to support local communities, so colleges and training providers can help employers develop skilled staff to meet their needs, and support individuals to achieve positive outcomes – building their CVs, as well as their ability and motivation to progress in further education and work.

In the current climate, we need partnerships and creative planning to make an impact.  For a start, this could see more providers working with local Jobcentres to offer a stepping stone to full-time training. They could also combine their efforts with local schools to excite younger learners about opportunities in industries like engineering and manufacturing – where Engineering UK research has shown two million skilled workers will be needed by the time today’s pupils reach working age.

The need for flexibility is behind EAL’s new ‘gateway to industry’ level 1 qualifications, designed to address employability skills, basic practical abilities and health and safety awareness.  A lot of focus has gone into creating a menu of options for colleges and training providers, with Awards, Certificates and Diplomas to support programmes that can last from six weeks to a single term or a full academic year.  Understanding the financial challenges they face, an introductory offer on registration fees throughout September and October will also help providers manage the process of introducing new qualifications.

Our aim is to give providers options to explore the best ways they can serve people in their catchment area.  This could be through summer courses, evening classes or ‘roll-on roll-off’ programmes feeding into level 2 qualifications or Apprenticeships.  The range of available units across engineering, manufacturing, electrical and plumbing means learning can be aligned to the labour demands from local employers.

Years of experience as a college faculty manager showed me that a learner’s motivation and desire have a huge impact on their chances of success.  In supporting NEETs, we have to recognise not everyone is equipped to start their learning journey at level 2.  We must do all we can to give people of all education levels the best opportunity to unlock their potential and make the grade.

A taste of industry specific training can instil confidence and prepare them for the challenge of continuing in further education.  If they don’t have the fondest memories of school, it is even more important to settle them back into a learning environment.

A similar approach has already rewarded Nissan and its supply chain partners in the North West, where a scheme designed with EAL and the NAC Group has helped over 1,100 unemployed people into permanent jobs.  Successful learners can stand in front of potential employers with an industry recognised qualification behind them, and a basic understanding of key issues like sustainability, to ease their transition into work.

Five times as many unemployed candidates are now successful in negotiating Nissan’s recruitment process – with 50 per cent fewer leaving the business during the first 13 weeks of their employment.

Establishing and nurturing commitment among learners is just as important as raising skills and understanding if we are to boost retention, progression and success.  When the chance to pursue further training or employment comes up, they need to have the motivation to take full advantage and make a positive move towards a new career in industry.

Natalie Wilson is product manager of EAL, the specialist awarding organisation for industry qualifications

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