The latest youth unemployment figures of one million paint a very depressing but very clear picture that after so much investment we still have persistent NEET and intergenerational disadvantage. To deal with this issue we need to move away from the belief that tackling this is the operational preserve of public sector agencies.
As a director of a local authority shared service commissioning programmes for young people across six diverse areas, programmes work where we see the following characteristics:
1. 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.
2. Family support: Families andhouseholds with multiple issues should receive specific integrated multi-agency support with an employment/career dimension being a cross-cutting theme. This should be built on by using role models of families, peers, neighbours who have broken free from the poverty of aspiration by getting a job and contributing to society.
3. 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, often cited by participants, that programmes lead nowhere or simply back to benefits because they do not leverage employment opportunities, can fatally undermine programmes that achieve the first two characteristics.
4. 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.
5. Local leadership:
Local authorities, schools, the community and voluntary sector as well as the private sector need to put aide territorial boundaries and work seamlessly to eradicate the growing numbers of NEETs. Each sector has a very important role to play but those who work in local government will also need to provide very different leadership and be more open to new and radical ideas. This will be uncomfortable to those in local government who are just used to tendering exercises. To achieve this, local government leaders will need to be more visible in their local communities working alongside their councillors.
Labour has had a good track record of providing investment, investment that is absent under the current government. If David Cameron wants to truly make a difference, perhaps he may consider using the five key characteristics as a test for each of his initiatives and programmes including the National Citizen Service.
Ayub Khan is a member of Ilford North CLP and of Progress. He writes here in a personal capacity, and tweets @ayubkhan65
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