NIACE welcomes Government’s 16-24 participation strategy

15th December 2011

NIACE welcomes the publication of the Government’s new strategy to maximise the participation of 16 – 24 year olds in education, training and work – Building Engagement, Building Futures – and is particularly interested in the further details of the Youth Contract announced by the Deputy Prime Minister last month.

NIACE is preparing a detailed response, but draws early attention to the recognition given to:

  • the work of the recent NIACE-supported Colleges in their Communities report (paragraph 4.9);
  • the provision of £4.5m over two years to allow colleges in 25 areas to give more 16 – 19 year olds access to work experience (paragraph 3.19);
  • the need to reform the funding system (paragraph 3.14);
  • the particular needs of people with learning difficulties and disabilities (although questions remain about how the introduction Universal Credit will work) (paragraphs 6.14 – 6.19);
  • a new approach to pre-employment training for people on Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment Support Allowance in the Work Related Activity Group, enabling access to fully-funded training relevant to the local labour market in the form of single units (from the Qualification and Credit Framework) as well as full qualifications;
  • the particular barriers faced by care leavers, offenders lone parents;
  • the key role of local government (paragraphs 3.20 – 3.29);
  • the importance of the National Careers Service and its links with Jobcentre Plus (paragraphs 5.15 – 5.18); and
  • the voluntary and community sector contribution (paragraphs 6.7 – 6.11).

NIACE Principal Policy Officer, Alastair Thomson, said:

“The Government’s commitment is crucial and there are many important announcements here which will help younger adults participate in education, training and work. A lot is being expected of employers in terms of providing work experience and internships as well as apprenticeships. However, the £250m of public money to pilot giving them greater ownership of vocational training should be an incentive.”

“We are also relieved that the Government has resisted the temptation to over-promote apprenticeships as a panacea to solve the problem of youth unemployment. They are right in saying that ‘Apprenticeships are not an option for everyone’ and instead reaffirm the value of other forms of work-based and work-related learning offered by colleges and other providers, including those from the private or voluntary and community sectors. NIACE believes the value of apprenticeships lies in improving skill-levels in order to boost productivity and competitiveness. Viewing them as a strand of welfare to work policy could place too great a strain on the brand.”

“While these proposals are necessary they may not yet be sufficient. NIACE urges the Government not to neglect the needs of mature adults who also find themselves not in education, training or employment. Those people in their fifties, and beyond, need no less special support to re-enter employment, education or training.”

NIACE is especially encouraged by the cross-departmental approach taken and by the way in which the challenge is conceptualised. Importantly, this recognises the distinctions between ‘unemployed’ and ‘inactive’ groups among the 18 – 24 cohort and the need for a different approach for the distinctive 16 – 17 group. However, NIACE is concerned about what maintenance support might be available to an unemployed person seeking to enter further education and about how eligibility for fee-remission will be determined. Similarly there is a lack of clarity about how part-time higher education interfaces with the new approach.