Employment opportunities for young people Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The case for treating young people as a specialist group

1.The Department has long offered specialist employment support programmes to young people. This recognises the specific barriers that young people can face in finding work, which contribute to the higher rate of youth unemployment. Both youth unemployment overall, and long-term youth unemployment, have fallen in recent years and are now back at their pre-recession levels. The Department correctly recognises, however, that it must not become complacent. Unemployment and long-term unemployment amongst young people are still much higher than amongst the general population. For some groups of young people, a benign economic climate will not be sufficient to secure their future in the labour market. The risk of these young people’s future employment prospects being scarred by early experiences of unemployment remains pervasive. Failure to address youth unemployment in the short term can be a long-term impediment to life chances and economic dynamism. (Paragraph 12)

Perceptions of Jobcentre Plus

2.Some young people, particularly those with greater support needs, have negative perceptions of JCP. These young people may avoid JCP services entirely as a result, potentially leaving them without any formal assistance to find work. If the Government is to achieve its ambition of full employment, it is essential that young people who could benefit from JCP support feel able to access its services. JCP must do more to provide a welcoming and inspirational environment that is conducive to young people fully engaging with support. We also heard of a perception amongst some young people that JCP only offers generic, one-size-fits-all initiatives. This is at odds with the wide range of support that the Department told us young people can already access. The Department must ensure that it is not selling JCP short and putting young people off by failing to publicise appropriately its more tailored provision. (Paragraph 22)

3.The recommissioning of JCP’s estate in 2018 offers an opportunity for the Department to address some of JCP’s branding and image problems. Prior to recommissioning, we recommend it works with organisations that deliver successful employment support to adapt its mainstream service. This should focus on possible changes to the physical environment to make JCP feel more welcoming, and less intimidating, to young claimants. We also recommend the Department launch a social media campaign, aimed at young people and the organisations that support them, to publicise the full range of support already available via JCP. (Paragraph 23)

Jobcentre Plus employment support

4.Although we heard some concerns about the Support for Schools initiative—notably on the association with JCP’s brand and image—we also heard many reasons for optimism. We were particularly interested to hear about how Support for Schools could help to counter-balance careers advice provision currently weighted towards academic options. The Government is aiming for three million new apprenticeship starts by 2020. Yet, too often, young people still see apprenticeships as second-best. If the Government is to achieve its goal, and increase the proportion of apprenticeships that are filled by young people, it must get advice on vocational options right in schools. As Support for Schools is rolled out nationally, it should retain a strong emphasis on providing vocational careers advice, tailored to the local area and to existing skills shortages. (Paragraph 34)

5.The Department is planning a further research programme on Support for Schools, evaluating the national roll-out. We recommend that within this it looks specifically at vocational education: how many schools take up advice on this, and whether there is any identifiable impact on student ambitions, knowledge about and perceptions of apprenticeships and traineeships, or choices when they leave school. If it can demonstrate improvements in this respect, we recommend the Department further scales up Support for Schools to ensure that more schools are able to benefit. (Paragraph 35)

6.The Intensive Activity Programme element of the Youth Obligation should help young people overcome key barriers to work. We are therefore concerned that access to it will be determined by postcode lottery: dependent on the geography of the already much-delayed roll-out of the Universal Credit full service. Even if the Department sticks to its latest timetable, the last areas scheduled to get the full service will implement the Youth Obligation eighteen months after the first. If Universal Credit is delayed further, the wait will be even longer. Yet there is no good reason to link the two programmes in this way. Far better would be to prioritise areas where youth unemployment is a particular problem. (Paragraph 43) The Department has already conducted a good quality trial of the IAP. Given this, and the strength of evidence of the importance of getting unemployed young people into work quickly, we recommend it uncouple the roll out of the Youth Obligation from Universal Credit and commit to introducing it on a more ambitious timescale from April 2017. This should prioritise areas which have particularly high levels of youth unemployment. (Paragraph 43)

7.We share the Department’s ambition for unemployed young people to move into apprenticeships, traineeships, or other forms of employment within six months of starting a benefit claim. But not all young people will manage this, and some will be required to take up work placements arranged by the Department. The Department seems, however, to have little understanding of how many young people this will apply to. It therefore cannot hope to know how many placements it will need to arrange. We are further concerned that making placements mandatory will prove to be off-putting to potential host organisations, limiting the range and quality of placements that the Department is able to offer. (Paragraph 44)

8.We recognise that the Department is still working through elements of the Youth Obligation design, including its assumptions of how many young people on the programme will still be unemployed at six months. We recommend that it sets out, in response to this report, how it is estimating claimant need for work placements and how it is approaching the task of arranging appropriate opportunities. We further recommend that the Department does not inadvertently limit the range, quality and relevance of placements that it is able to provide by making participation mandatory for claimants. There is evidence from previous schemes that this creates difficulties—both reputational and practical—for employers, and we heard that it may be counter-productive for the young people who take part. (Paragraph 45)

9.The Department must ensure that it offers the right support at the right time to young people with complex support needs as they progress towards work. The Flexible Support Fund, properly and extensively used, could provide a means of accomplishing this. We remain concerned, however, that more weight is being placed on the Flexible Support Fund than it can bear. The Department has continued to put it forward as the catch-all solution to supporting claimants with a wide range of complex barriers into work. Whether this approach is effective in practice depends on the adequacy of the Fund itself, and on Work Coaches’ ability to identify claimant needs and create programmes of support to address them. The Department must ensure that Work Coaches are equipped with the tools to do this. That means providing a consistent way of measuring the progress that young claimants are making towards work, and identifying where additional support might be appropriate. (Paragraph 50)

10.We recommend that the Department provides Work Coaches with a set of “distance travelled” performance measures. These would be used to assess whether young claimants are making progress towards work, and to help Work Coaches to identify where additional support is needed via the Flexible Support Fund. They should also be used in determining whether progressing to the latter stages of the Youth Obligation is appropriate. JCP Branch Managers should also use these measures to identify Work Coaches who are effective in supporting young people into work, and to help them identify where Coaches on their teams might benefit from more training and support. (Paragraph 51)

11.Some claimants will make progress towards work during the six month Youth Obligation timeframe, but still not be ready for employment. Where there is evidence of progress but significant doubt over work readiness, referral to additional specialist support programmes, via the Flexible Support Fund, should be a fourth option under the Youth Obligation. To ensure that young people are benefiting from the Department’s flexible support provision, we recommend it publish an audit of the Flexible Support Fund, taking into account at how it is used by age group and for what purposes. In response to this report, we recommend the Department sets out how much Flexible Support funding it expects to be spent on young people’s employment. This should be the first stage of on-going reporting on the purposes for which the Fund is used. (Paragraph 52)

Working with employers

12.The Department recognises that it stands little chance of improving young people’s employment rates unless it works closely with employers, both nationally and locally. JCP employer engagement staff have an important role to play. They must ensure that there is a good fit between the options that Work Coaches promote to claimants in JCP and what is available in the local labour market. This is especially important for apprenticeship and traineeship opportunities which offer the pathway to a career. Equally, JCP must ensure that a wide range of employers advertise and work with it. We heard some examples of good engagement with employers at a national level. We also heard that this engagement does not always filter down to local JCPs. This can lead to a poor service for both young people and employers. Young people may be encouraged to apply for jobs that they have little interest in or chance of obtaining, or pushed into training which offers few employment prospects. Employers may struggle to fill vacancies and have to deal with excessive volumes of unsuitable applications. (Paragraph 60)

13.The Department is putting together an Employer Engagement Strategy, which will seek to ensure a good fit between the skills of young claimants and employer needs. This is welcome, but we are concerned that its focus is too narrow. A general assessment of claimant skills set against employer needs will not address the significant concerns that we heard from employers about the service JCP provides, both to them and to young claimants. In its proposed form, the Strategy also will not address concerns relating to young people’s understanding of local opportunities and how to access them. (Paragraph 61)

14.We recommend the Department set out the full scope of its Employer Engagement Strategy in response to this report. The Strategy should specifically identify how integration between JCP and local labour markets will be improved, taking into account the roles played by schools, colleges and apprenticeship providers, as well as employers. There should be a focus on the extent to which JCP understands the current and future business needs of employers and the role of JCP employer engagement staff in improving this. The Strategy should also set out how JCP Work Coaches will be supported to strike the difficult balance between ensuring that young claimants apply for enough jobs, and ensuring that employers are not overwhelmed with unsuitable applications. (Paragraph 62)

15.Jobcentre Plus coped well with increased youth unemployment during and after the recession. The challenge the Department now faces is two-fold. It must enhance the support that it offers to young people with the greatest barriers to work. It must also ensure that its Work Coaches are equipped to offer accurate advice to young people on the opportunities that are available to them locally, and the ways of accessing them. This should include strong emphasis on the benefits of taking up an apprenticeship or traineeship. If it can address this challenge, the Department will help to ensure that young people’s futures are not scarred by the experience of unemployment early in their working lives. More widely, it will play its part in building a workforce with the vital skills that the country needs to guarantee prosperity in the years to come. (Paragraph 63)

27 March 2017