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In focus: UK

Going local: Wales

Contribution by Christine Chapman,
Chair of the Children and Young People’s Committee at the National Assembly for Wales (UK)

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One of the first challenges that faced the Welsh Labour Government upon being elected in May 2011 was the unacceptably high level of long-term youth unemployment. As such, it was necessary to formulate bold policies that would achieve a real improvement to the lives of young people in Wales.

The Welsh Labour Government was elected on a manifesto that laid down as its very first principle a commitment to tackling youth unemployment by means of creating a young people’s jobs and training fund, and by the extension of apprenticeship opportunities for young people. This builds on the Welsh Government’s decision to place skills at the core of improving economic performance by placing a greater emphasis on meeting the needs of both employers and learners and by ensuring that resources are aligned with national priorities.

The Welsh Government’s flagship initiative to increasing employment here in Wales remains the creation of apprenticeships, which provide a solution particularly suited to helping young people who face barriers in accessing work.  By means of the Young Recruits Programme, financial assistance is provided to eligible employers who in ordinary circumstances would be unable to recruit and support an apprentice, to offer high quality apprenticeship programmes to additional young apprentices. Initially launched as a one year scheme that was due to finish in March 2011, the success of the programme has led to its extension. Wage subsidies are offered to employers taking on an apprentice aged 16 to 24 for a full-time placement lasting at least a year, with a thousand places available at present and the initiative being extended in future years. Apprenticeship placements will be considered from any sector provided certain eligibility criteria are met.

In addition, the Welsh Government is seeking to create new employment opportunities for young people. In April 2012, they launched the £75 million Jobs Growth Wales, a new package of support to help unemployed 16-24 year-olds into paid employment. It is expected that this will create 4 000 jobs a year for three years, the majority of which will be in the private sector. This will promote and support the sustainability of the programme, by enabling young people to progress into either apprenticeships or alternative employment with the same employer as the Welsh Government will encourage and support employers to make jobs permanent after six months. Jobs Growth Wales will replace the successful Future Jobs Fund, which the current UK Government inexplicably axed when it took office.

European funding has been critical in supporting these and similar initiatives. A recent report into the use of Structural Funds in Wales between 2000 and 2006 suggested that EU projects created over 50 000 jobs and 3 000 Small and Medium Enterprises. Participants gained over 200 000 qualifications, and nearly 100 000 economically inactive people were helped back into work or training.

The current round of funding has seen similar results, and includes the application of funding to projects that support particularly disadvantaged groups. For example, over 1 500 young people with learning disabilities in South Wales were helped into employment by means of the £15 million Special Educational Needs (SEN) Transition to Employment project. The £15 million Potential project has been used to help young people at risk of dropping out of school in North West Wales – it will now be expanded to help 16-19 year-olds who are in further education but at risk of dropping out, enabling them to complete their qualifications and improving their economic potential. Both were backed by money from the Social Fund.




The national context:
Youth unemployment stood at 20.5% at the end of 2012, affecting nearly 1 million young people, a quarter of whom have been unemployed for over a year. Youth unemployment therefore continues to be a major policy challenge for the UK labour market.

Although low levels of demand for young people’s labour are partly due to the crisis, the UK's youth unemployment problem is also structural. The system is traditionally characterised by well designed academic careers and poorly planned non-academic pathways. As vocational training is often perceived as playing a secondary role, many young people (particularly 16-18 year-olds) are insufficiently prepared for work and lack essential soft skills, and so struggle to fulfil the minimum qualifications required by employers.

At the same time, a growing number of recent graduates are having difficulty finding a good jobs, and are often forced into low-paying jobs or unpaid traineeships. Labour market policies should therefore offer young people better options for career progression, by encouraging employers to engage with young people during their transition from education into work, and by expanding the number of high-quality apprenticeships and paid traineeship options. More locally-tailored programmes also need to be created for those most at risk through partnerships, involving a wide range of actors on the ground.

More than EUR 700 million of ESF funding is committed to support existing youth employment measures, targeting mainly 15-25 year-olds. Major efforts have been made to facilitate access to apprenticeships, by providing NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) with support and skills development, and around 10 000 places were expected in the first year of implementation. In addition, sector-based work academies support unemployed people through a package of pre-employment training, work-experience and a guaranteed job interview.

Furthermore, Northern Ireland has developed a new strategy towards NEETs, called “Training for Success”, which addresses personal and development needs and helps young people to get a job or an apprenticeship in a chosen skill area.

Last but not least, in the framework of the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) young people can apply for financial support to start up their own business and benefit from mentoring.

In terms of funding youth unemployment measures, in April 2012 the UK Government launched the Youth Contract with a total budget of EUR 1.3 billion over three years. It aims to help young people prepare for and find long-term sustainable employment and provides half a million places. It includes: 160 000 wage incentives for private companies to recruit 18-24 year-olds, the creation of 250 000 additional work experience or sector-based work academy places and 20,000 apprenticeship grants, as well as adviser support through Jobcentre Plus for all 18-24 year-olds.

Moreover, the Scottish and Welsh Governments aim to allocate remaining ESF and ERDF funding to traineeship and apprenticeship projects supporting youth employment.



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