Jobskills is the Department for Employment and Learning's largest training programme. Introduced in 1995, it aims to raise the skills levels of participants and their employability. Focusing on people for whom an academic education is inappropriate, Jobskills provides an alternative route to qualifications, through the attainment of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). The programme is delivered by around 100 recognised 'Training Organisations', who provide formal training and organize work placements with employers. By March 2003, Jobskills had catered for some 76,000 young people and 17,000 adults at a total cost of £485 million. Since 1998, Jobskills has focused solely on unemployed young persons from 16 to 24 years of age.
The programme has a number of key objectives. These include the provision of quality training for young people entering the labour market; improvement of their skills and competence through the attainment of NVQs; the tailoring of training to the needs of trainees through individual training plans; and addressing priority skills needs.
On the basis of a Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General the Committee took evidence from the Department on four main issues: the quality of training; the effectiveness of the programme; the targeting of skills needs; and financial monitoring and control.
The Committee draws the following main conclusions from our examination:
- Our overall impression is that Jobskills is one of the worst-run programmes that this Committee has examined in recent years. We noted a quite astonishing catalogue of failures and control weaknesses, all of which pointed to a disturbing level of complacency within the Department. While we readily acknowledge that it has to deal with some very difficult groups of young people, this does not explain the widespread shortcomings in supervision and control that existed.
- It is clear that Jobskills has not received the senior management attention that it deserves. One of the most damning aspects of the Department's handling is the extent to which a number of the most fundamental weaknesses - such as poor quality training and high levels of early leaving from the scheme - persisted over many years. We saw little evidence of the Department having tackled these problems with any great vigour, prior to the C&AG's review. This points towards a disturbing degree of incompetence, indifference or both.
- At half a billion pounds, the funding provided to this programme, since 1995, has been enormous. Given the serious and ongoing concerns about the quality of training, the poor performance of a number of training providers, the limited employment impact of the programme and the substantial 'skills mismatch' between Jobskills and the needs of the Northern Ireland economy, we can only conclude that, in far too many respects, Jobskills has provided poor value for money.
- One of the most unsatisfactory aspects of our review was the poor quality of the Department's answers to a number of our questions. Too many responses either failed to properly address the question or sought to defend what was clearly indefensible. We wish to make it clear that this is not acceptable and we would ask the Department of Finance and Personnel to emphasise to all Northern Ireland Departments the importance which this Committee attaches to accurate and unambiguous responses to our enquiries.
- The Committee welcomes the Accounting Officer's assurance that he has accepted all of the recommendations in the C&AG's Report. The Department should be in no doubt, however, that we want to see a much improved performance when the C&AG next examines this or any other scheme for which it is responsible.