The government’s ‘boot camp’ idea is built on myths

Most young people want to work, there just aren't enough jobs for them


If the government wishes to create a ‘no excuses’ culture to youth unemployment then its first step has to be creating the jobs and apprenticeships young people are crying out for.

It ought to go without saying that we should do everything we possibly can to arm young people with all the skills, knowledge and confidence they will need to be as employable as possible. On that basis Monday’s announcement that young people will be placed on ‘activity programmes’ should be welcome.

What is less welcome is the misleading rhetoric the policies are wrapped up in. Listen to the government and you’d be forgiven for believing all young people sit on the dole in need of army style ‘bootcamps’ and the threat of benefit removal to motivate them.

In reality most young people want to work and get on, and are some of our most entrepreneurial and creative citizens. Some of their best skills can often fall outside of the traditional career routes – think apps developed in bedrooms by creative teenagers.

Whilst not everyone will turn out to be the next Bill Gates it is government’s job to educate and prepare young people for the working world and then, through fair and balanced stewardship of the economy, do everything possible to ensure the jobs are there for them when that education comes to an end.

The truth is that too often our young people are ready, willing and eager to work but the jobs are just not there. Many have been badly let down by the decisions made by the current government and by the recent coalition. Some groups of young people find it harder to find work – for example since 2010 there has been a 49 per cent rise in the number of young BME people unemployed for a year or more.

The decision to provide jobless young people with employability training to develop soft skills and CV writing is positive. But you have to wonder if we’d need this announcement if the last government hadn’t scrapped the Connexions service which provided exactly this type of training in schools, and instead implemented a disastrous reform of careers guidance.

The result was to leave in its place a gaping hole in the preparedness of pupils for the world of work. Giving responsibility to schools to provide careers guidance was a move which Ofsted found led to unequal and poor access to impartial careers advice, which includes skills such as CV writing and interview techniques.

Young people should not leave school at the age of 18 without the ability to write a CV and apply for jobs, or the social skills to navigate an interview, but it seems that this is often the case.

By adding a punitive element to the deal, withdrawing job seekers allowance for those who refuse to take the course, the government seems to imply it is young ‘job seekers’ themselves that are the problem – obviously not wanting to improve their own chances of getting a job.

In a very small minority of cases this may carry some truth, but it’s more down to a lack appropriate jobs to apply for, not an untidy CV. That can only be solved by government and its time they took responsibility for that.

The other obvious question is why this kind of scheme should only apply to young people; surely everyone who wants it should be offered the skills to make them more employable.

As is often the case at the start of a parliament, there are things to be welcomed in this announcement – but we will have to wait to see if they are borne out by results. For example, the promise of three million new apprenticeships would make a significant difference – if they are truly high quality and targeted at young people.

Apprenticeship performance in recent years teaches us to be cautious. In 2012 for example, Boris Johnson pledged 250,000 new apprenticeships by 2016. With less than a year to go we’re not even half way.

Add to that the fact that almost half (44 per cent)(p.21) of the 96,500 apprenticeships started in London between 2012 and 2014 went to people aged over 25 with many of them more akin to subsidised in-work training than entry level roles.

The popularity of apprenticeships actually illustrates my wider point. The latest figures show that in London there are 17 people chasing each apprenticeship. Far from the work-shy myth perpetuated by some, young people are clearly eager to get into work, willing even to tolerate the pitiful minimum wage of £2.73 per hour which uniquely applies to apprentices.

Giving unemployed young people a work-skills ‘bootcamp’ might be useful in some cases (and sounds tough) but it doesn’t magic up the jobs they want and need. Nor does it solve the underlying skills problem and explain why government is cutting investment in soft skills and careers guidance at school.

What this new scheme looks like in practice will tell a lot about the government’s intentions. Are we talking high quality training or simply a tough-sounding tick box? One breeds results, the other a throwaway headline. By implying it is young people’s fault rather than a failure of government when they can’t get the job, the Conservatives are building up excuses in advance for their failure to deliver for the young unemployed. This is neither helpful or acceptable.

Fiona Twycross AM is Labour’s London Assembly Economy Spokesperson. Follow her on Twitter

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