Memorandum submitted by Reed in Partnership

 

 

Introduction

 

1. Reed in Partnership is pleased to have the opportunity to submit written evidence to the Committee's inquiry into young people not in education, employment or training ('NEETS') and welcomes the Committee's examination of this important issue.

 

2. Reed in Partnership is one of the leading welfare-to-work providers and over the last decade has helped 100,000 people move into sustainable employment. Reed in Partnership was formed in 1998 as the first private sector provider of New Deal services with an 8 million contract in London. Since then we have delivered and managed over 50 DWP/JCP contracts with a combined value of over 400 million. We now manage large contracts across London, Yorkshire, Merseyside, Cambridge, Suffolk and Scotland working with around 100 subcontractors, 2,000 partners and over 25,000 employers. We also have international operations in Australia and Poland.

 

3. Our submission focuses on our direct experience of working with unemployed young people on employment and skills contracts in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the UK. We would welcome an opportunity to give oral evidence to the Committee and are happy to provide additional information..

 

Our experience of working with young people

 

4. Reed in Partnership has extensive experience of working with young people on skills and employment programmes across the UK. Since 1998, we have helped more than 30,000 young people move from benefits into work and helped many more gain the skills they need to secure employment. We are also one of the first providers to be delivering the Work Focussed Training element of the Young Person's Guarantee through our operations in Central London. In addition the Reed Foundation is the sponsor of the West London Academy and we play an active role within the school.

 

5. The evidence in this submission is based on our experience of working with young people over the past 12 years and also the research evidence collected through our policy work. In November 2009, we published "False starts: Restoring hope, dignity and opportunity to young people" which looked at what more could be done to support young people who are out of work. The report was based on a survey of 1,200 unemployed young people, discussion groups with young people in Glasgow, Liverpool and London and interviews with our Personal Advisers who work on our employment and skills contracts.

 

6. Our submission is focused on three core areas: (1) the experience of young people out of work at the current time; (2) what more support young unemployed people need; and (3) the type of support that young people require in order to avoid falling into the NEET group.

 

The experience of young people currently out of work

 

7. With unemployment at its highest level since the early 1990s, the recession has hit communities across the country. However, it is young people who have been most adversely affected. The number of under 25s out of work and not in education or training has risen sharply and is predicted to rise further. Nearly 200,000 of the 573,000 made jobless last year were aged 18 to 24, while in the first quarter of 2009 redundancy rates for younger workers were almost double those of workers aged 25 to 49.

 

8. The majority of the young people on our employment programmes are mandatory JSA referrals who have been out of work for a minimum of six months. Whilst some of the young people are de-motivated with a lack of enthusiasm, the majority of young people want to work but lack the skills to secure and sustain suitable employment.

 

9. This was reflected in our most recent research which found that the vast majority of young people were keen to find work. They were highly motivated, flexible in their approach to the type of job they would accept, and many had a strong work ethic. This was due to young people wanting the freedom, particularly the financial freedom, that work provides and having a strong desire to be self-reliant.

 

10. Whilst the majority of young people are actively looking for work, our experience and research has shown that a small number of young people are not genuinely looking for work and have become accustomed to living on benefits. In our most recent research, some young people said they saw little point wasting their time looking for work given the current state of the labour market. For some the recession was being used as an excuse not to take their job search seriously.

 

11. There are some parts of the country with high levels of intergenerational unemployment. This can result in many young people receiving little support from their family or friends in terms of trying to find employment. Through our employment programmes we have worked with young people to improve their motivation and skills and helped them secure a job only to find them dropping out within a couple of weeks due to family pressure.

 

12. Reed in Partnership believes that whilst the policy response from the government must still focus on the broad range of young people who are out of work, it is crucial that attention is still focuses on young people who are not in education, employment or training and who are furthest from the labour market. We believe that more work is needed to challenge the culture of benefit dependency that exists within some communities. Government programmes such as Work for Your Benefit could have a significant role in terms of creating the expectation that people will need to undertake activities in order to receive their benefits.

 

13. Our research showed that the young people who are unemployed at the current time encompass a broad range of different groups. For instance, some have many years of employment experience, while others are just leaving school or university with no work history. Some have degree-level qualifications whilst others have no real skills. These diverse needs require a range of policy responses.

 

14. To tackle the problem of unemployment, we believe the UK needs a varied and creative policy response. The issue is not solely about people who are disengaged with education or young people who have grown up in workless households. Today, young people, regardless of their qualifications or level of motivation, are finding it increasingly difficult to move into the labour market. This requires a policy approach that can respond to these very different needs by providing extensive and tailored support. It is crucial that we provide opportunities for young people to gain experience and confidence, rather than simply allowing them to become accustomed to inactivity and relying on state benefits.

 

Barriers to employment

 

15. In our survey of 1,200 unemployed young people, respondents felt that the most significant barrier preventing them from gaining employment were too much competition for jobs (71%), lack of experience (52%), no suitable jobs (38%) and lack of confidence (18%).

 

16. Only 16% of young people identified a lack of skills as a barrier to employment. However, we know from our experience of working with unemployed young people and businesses across the UK, that basic skills is a real issue preventing young people from gaining employment. However, it is not just basic skills such as literacy and numeracy which is a barrier to employment. The most important factor is the lack of understanding of business culture and the soft skills required in the workplace.

 

17. Through the numerous employment and skills programmes we manage, we work to give young people experience of being in employment through work-trials, personalised support covering issues such as: turning up on time, overcoming problems that may arise in the workplace, along with modular courses covering issues such as team-work, motivation and customer service skills. We believe that much more focus is required within the education system to provide young people with these skills before they move into the world of work.

 

18. The lack of previous work experience is an issue that impacts on the majority of young people, regardless of their educational qualifications or background. From the perspective of Reed in Partnership, we believe more can be done to overcome this barrier to ensure young people are better positioned in the labour market. For example, universities should offer more 'blended' learning with a vocational element in all degrees.

 

19. A great deal of the government response has focused on developing opportunities for young people to undertake unpaid activities such as internships and work experience as a way of helping them move into employment. Our research and experience of working with young people has revealed there is often an unwillingness of young people to undertake activities that are not paid.

 

20. Our research showed that there was a reluctance on the part of young people to consider interventions that were not paid. Only 45% of young people take part in unpaid training, 44% unpaid work experience, 39% unpaid voluntary work and just 36% would take an unpaid internship. Young women were far more willing to undertake unpaid activities and there was some significant regional variations. We believe there is a need to challenge some of these views and to ensure that young people understand the longer-term benefits of these activities in terms of developing their skills, building their confidence and gaining the experience they will need to find a suitable job.

 

Case Study: One of the individuals we spoke to in Glasgow (Leanne, 19 years old), was very reticent to undertake any unpaid interventions to help her get work. She had some experience in administration work, but had not had a job for 18 months. She said the main reason she was not successful in finding a job was because her lack of work experience, but she still kept applying for jobs and being turned away. She did not want to "waste time" doing unpaid work or training and could not see the longer-term benefits of these type of interventions,.

 

21. Our survey showed a strong perception amongst young people that businesses would prefer to take on older workers with more experience rather than recruit young people who may require more development and training. With much greater competition in the labour market, employers are choosing to recruit people with proven skills and experience rather than take a chance on employing a young person requiring development.

 

22. One of the core recommendations in our recent research report was that the Government should consider measures to make employing young people more economically attractive by removing the employers' National Insurance contribution for the first year of their post-education career. This would provide a real incentive for employers to take on young people.

 

23. One of the issues we believe requires further attention is the fact that many young people who are out of work are not currently claiming benefits. This is one of the reasons why there is a such a divergence between the official claimant count and the ILO measure of unemployment. We believe that this presents a real challenge as many young people do not have any awareness or access to the support programmes being put in place such as the Future Jobs Fund and Backing Young Britain.

 

Avoiding young people falling into the NEET Trap

 

24. We believe that there is room for considerable improvement in the type of support given to young people before they start the process of looking for employment. The UK needs to develop a more integrated approach which provides young people with the employment and skills support they need to sustain and progress in employment.

 

25. Many of the young people we work with have received little employability coaching whilst in formal education. This includes help with writing a CV, completing an application form or attending an interview. With a much more competitive labour market, these are crucial elements limiting the availability of young people to secure work.

 

26. We believe that the Government should include basic employability features (such as job interview skills) in the curriculum of schools and universities so that pupils are better prepared for the job market. These should focus on enabling young people to become more resilient and to develop the right mindset for successful employment.

 

Case Study: Through the Reed Foundation's involvement in the West London Academy we take an active interest in helping young people gain the employability skills they need.

 

Before the young people undertake their work experience placement, we provide them with a mentor as part of a 14-week programme (covering their first term in Year 11). The programme aims to strengthen their confidence and chances of securing training on leaving school. The students undertake eight 3-hour long workshops helping them to prepare for the world of work, followed by a two-week placement with an employer. During this time, they can work towards accredited skills and qualifications, while being supervised by both their Reed and employer placement mentors.

 

After this, students are given the opportunity to share their experiences with the rest of the group, other peers and teachers. This helps put their learning in context, while evidence shows it also has a real and lasting effect on the overall employability outcomes of the young people who take part. We believe that more work like this needs to be undertaken so that young people are properly prepared for the world of work.

 

27. In addition, the careers advice given to young people in schools, colleges and universities, should be broadened away from merely being about job options, into preparation for applying for jobs and undertaking interviews.

 

28. Government should also implement an integrated employment and skills programme to ensure continuity of support for young people once they leave education. This would have a real impact in helping people develop their talents and would be particularly helpful for those young people with few qualifications.

 

December 2009