A big challenge- but are there any lessons from History?
The current recession and credit crunch is having devastating consequences for young people. Most employers if they are recruiting are doing so at 18 rather than at 16 years old and education and training places for 16-17 year olds are being badly squeezed, including fewer Apprenticeship on offer from hard pressed employers .
Surveys suggest too that many young people are on training schemes not through choice but because they simply cant get a job . Some 260,000, or 32% of 16-17 year olds, are thought to be unemployed according to the latest ILO figures, the highest amongst any age group. The Government sees the reduction of the NEET category as a major priority but this is hardly helped by current adverse economic conditions. The Government, interalia, has announced an extra 72,000 school, college and apprenticeship places from September 2009 and is raising the participation age to 17 in 2013 .
But the system is struggling to cope as we have seen recently through shortfalls in college funding, the student loans debacle and fewer university places on offer. The Government has also indicated it is looking for cuts in public spending, sooner rather than later.
At the end of 2008, 86% of 16-17 year olds in England were participating in recognised education or training, with 74% in full time education, 7% in work based learning and 5% in other education and training. The remaining 14% were not participating in recognised education or training. Of these 4% were in jobs without training, 3% in employer funded training and 7/% were not in employment education or training (NEET). It is notoriously difficult to settle on accurate figures for NEET not least because of the different means of measurement but also because of the churn factor , as young people move in and out of the category, sometimes not infrequently. A new report ‘Lessons from History: Increasing the number of 16 and 17 year olds in education and training
Lessons from History’ examines in some depth the schemes that have been implemented historically to seek to reduce the number of 16-17 year olds not in recognised education or training (NET) It covers implications for strategy; the mechanisms through which programmes work; and the features of individual programmes.
The report published by CFBT education Trust, supported by researchers from CFE, concluded that policy makers should be prepared to be flexible, working closely with employers, incentivising them to release young employees for training and combining different types of programmes to maximum effect . The authors suggest focusing particularly on 17 year olds that may not wish to stay on in full time education.
Programmes should be flexible and meet the needs of different groups, in different localities and circumstances, with the support of local employers. Just 5% of 16-17 year olds are on employer based apprenticeships with many employers struggling to pay the wage costs. The authors recommend that the government should consider wage subsidies to employers taking on young apprentices and also, more generally, that the Government should also consider Employer Wage subsidy programmes and Employer Training subsidy programmes to help support 16-17 year olds . The authors also, crucially, highlighted the need for young people to have access to high quality information, advice and guidance and to be offered clear paths of progression to sustain their interest and engagement and to help them make informed choices as to the routes available to them .
David Willetts, the Shadow Minster for Universities, Skills and Families welcomed at the reports launch ,the detailed information on previous schemes which might help inform future policy options. He particularly stressed the importance for young people of sound Information Advice and Guidance, independent of schools . He expressed his concern about the erosion over time of high quality careers advice to young people. He remarked that you cant have a system that promotes choice for 16 year olds yet then deprives many of them of information and professional advice they require to equip them to make that choice . The Tories he reiterated want professional careers advisers to be easily accessible. Asked whether Diplomas might play a part in Tory plans to encourage pupils to remain engaged post 16, he said that the Tories were against the academically oriented diplomas designed to replace A levels, sharing the CBIs views on this, but he was still broadly supportive of the vocationally oriented Diplomas but with one important caveat. He was concerned that some of these Diplomas were probably too academic to attract more vocationally oriented young people, and were too complex, with pupils being bussed around from pillar to post in order to study them .
He also remarked on a worrying shortfall in take up of the new qualification. Willetts feels that current vocational qualifications particularly the NVQ have a poor reputation among employers and may even damage young people’s prospects. He favoured qualifications more closely related to the work place and the craft guilds such as the BTECS. Although an admirer of FE colleges, Willetts cautioned against qualifications being too far removed from the actual requirements of the workplace illustrating his point by quoting a hairdresser in his constituency who preferred to take on young people at 16 than those at 18 with a Hairdressers qualification from the local FE college, because the latter had more theoretical than practical knowledge and had preconceived ideas, which were difficult to train out of them.
In short there are lessons to learn from history. Just about every conceivable scheme has been tried in the past, both here and abroad and it is important for policy makers to learn from previous mistakes, and obviously not to repeat them but to draw too from the success stories.
Flexibility, locally -driven programmes, real engagement with employers and a judicious mix of incentives for training seems to offer the best prospect of positive returns and value for taxpayers’ money. And, of course, we should make sure that our young people have access to sound disinterested advice to help them decide their best options and pathways into work. The Tories want to make this a priority.