Jobcentre Plus needs radical and urgent reform to bring down unemployment

With youth unemployment continuing to rise, and the number of neets at record levels, Jobcentre Plus needs urgent reform, writes Amanda Ramsay.


With youth unemployment continuing to rise, and the number of neets at record levels, Jobcentre Plus needs urgent reform, writes Amanda Ramsay

In light of February figures showing a whopping 1.04 million out of work youngsters, nearly a quarter of all young people aged 16-24 are not in education, employment or training (NEETs) and face the dole queue, a depressing prospect for any age group.

Job centres need urgent root and branch reform so they are genuinely effective resource providers and a real part of the solution.

This week Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves MP hit the nail on the head, that come 2015 Labour must be seen not just as the saviours but as the reformers of public services.

The old labour exchange model has no place in a post-industrial, service-led economy. Whole scale reform of the Jobcentre Plus (JCP) system couldn’t come fast enough, especially if recent research from Amp Insight is anything to go by.

Amp Insight’s Jake Hayman, chief executive officer at the Social Investment Consultancy, told Left Foot Forward:

“Amp Insight has heard from young people across London that the stigma around claiming benefits and the reality of walking into Job Centres is putting people off engaging with a system that should be helping them as they search for work.

“The Amp Insight report, to be launched in March, will include suggested reforms from young people themselves, in terms of both brand and structure.”

Job centres should be run by the government, not privatised, but there is no reason why partners in the form of companies and charities could not work with government to renovate job centres to be more user-friendly.

In this age of deficit reduction and cuts in public spending, public-private partnerships might have to be the answer. Government working closely with socially responsible organisations could modernise job centres and job seeking practices.

As Stephen Uden, head of skills and economic affairs at Microsoft, told us:

“The JCP experience could be transformed by improving the facilities in centres, equipping centre staff with better information on local resources and using online engagement with young people in particular to reduce engagement cost.”

Microsoft, who has got 5,000 people into work through its Britain Works programme, could be a perfect potential partner.

Already pro-active in providing opportunities for young people, Microsoft runs work experience programmes for unemployed teenagers and CV workshops, supports employment charities such as the Prince’s Trust and has trained 1,000 apprentices to work in small and medium size enterprise (SME) partners.

Job centres are the one point of contact for all unemployed people and more could be done to make them dynamic gateways for individuals to access the right help to find work.

A more holistic approach is needed with some deep down lateral-thinking, to involve local charities, colleges and companies in things like redesigns of local job centres, from students and the work done with trainee builders, painters and decorators.

More than money, an injection of imagination is needed most. Clever partnering could see rejuvenation, with state of the art computer suites, online access points and even internet style cafes with ID codes for registered unemployed to access facilities for half-hour sessions at a time and reduced rates for on-site coffees, teas and soft drinks, where young people could look for work in a supportive atmosphere.

There needs to be a total cultural shift across departments, from the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, not just the Department of Work and Pensions, which currently administers job centres.

Shockingly, research from the Association of Colleges shows that as few as 6% of school leavers know that apprenticeships are an option for them. While schools are targeted and graded on academic qualifications, huge numbers of young people with non-conventional academic capabilities are not being catered for with vocational training. The journey to work readiness needs to start in school.

If you’re interested in any aspect of the issues around youth unemployment, whether a 16-24 year-old yourself or an employer trying to find young employees, why not come along to the Pragmatic Radicalism event in Birmingham tomorrow (Friday 24th February); details here.

See also:

New record high for NEETs in 2011 – but why?Richard Darlington, February 23rd 2012

Teenagers need EMA, not JSA, to get back into the workplaceJames Mills, February 22nd 2012

Osborne’s austerity obsession is betraying a generation of young peopleWilliam Bain MP, February 16th 2012

Youth unemployment, Job Centres, and meHarriet Williams, February 15th 2012

European Socialists present their action plan on youth unemploymentAlex Hern, January 26th 2012

Record NEET figures the result of Osborne’s ignorant, short-sighted ideologySally Hunt, November 24th 2011

Million young unemployed figure highlights enormity of the situation hitting our youthRory Weal, November 16th 2011

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.