Some Thoughts on Young people who are Not in Education/Employment or Training (NEET) & what good programmes look like.
The latest youth unemployment figures of just under 1m paints a very depressing but very clear picture that after so much investment we still have persistent NEET & intergenerational disadvantage which in my opinion is a growing problem. To deal with this issue what is needed is quite radical reform and moving away from the implicit belief that this is essentially the operational preserve of public sector agencies.
In opposition the Coalition parties made much of the issue of youth unemployment. But in government they have not presented clear or coherent strategy to include young people in the labour market apart from the existing apprenticeship programme and a far from clear offer of a National Citizen Service. This risks the creation of a lost generation, causing long term damage to our economy and society. A lesson learned during the 1980s is that high unemployment carries huge social cost – poorer health, higher crime and social breakdown.
Characteristics of good programmes:
As a Director of a Local Authority Shared Service commissioning programmes for young people across six diverse areas in South London, proven programmes work where we see the following characteristics:
Personalisation: Tailor the programme around the individual. Focus on their needs and have a clear understanding of the causal factors that prevent the individual from progressing.
Family support: Families/households with multiple issues should receive specific integrated multi-agency support with an employment/career dimension being a cross-cutting theme. Build on this by using role models where families, peers, neighbours have broken free from the poverty of aspiration by getting a job and contributing to society.
Labour market links: active preparation of local labour markets, individual employers and other providers to take supported risk with low-skilled, low-achievers with ‘chequered histories’ is essential to success. The message that is often cited by participants is that programmes lead nowhere/back to benefits because they do not leverage employment opportunities, can undermine fatally programmes that achieve the first two characteristics.
Sustainability: short-term statistical gains, just chasing numbers frequently conceal long-term problems, as ‘churn’ clearly demonstrates. How many times do we have the same young person presenting themselves as NEET once they have finished a programme? Solutions for NEET clients must focus on sustainability if these intergenerational cycles are to be broken. Greater emphasis on progression (in skills and income), aftercare and overcoming the ‘benefits trap’ is the solution.
Local Authorities, schools, the Community & Voluntary sector as well as the private sector need to lay down their territorial boundaries and work seamlessly to eradicate the growing numbers of NEET. Each sector has a very important role to play but those who work in Local Government will also need to provide a very different leadership and be more open to very new and radical ideas that are presented. This will be uncomfortable to those in local government who are just used to a tendering exercise.
Local Government leaders will need to be more visible in their local communities working alongside their Councillors. I cannot recall where I live, seeing my local Director of Children Services, Lead member or Chief Executive walking the borough. They would probably argue that they are far too busy, leaving such jobs for elected members, but if they truly do have the best interests of their community at the centre of what they do then they do need to be more visible.
Nationally, Labour has had a good track record of providing investment, which we know with the current government is not there. If Mr Cameron wants to truly make a difference, perhaps he may consider using the key characteristics as a test for each of his initiatives/programmes including his National Citizen Service.