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Captured in benefits trap

Tariq Tahir reports that many would-be Skillseekers are falling though the training net. Many school-leavers are failing to get Skillseekers training as a result of the funding system and are being left destitute, according to the Scottish Low Pay Unit, Poverty Alliance and Barnardo's.

Their joint report entitled Ready, Willing and Able finds training is skewed towards those with either an above average academic record or no qualifications, in spite of the Government's guarantee of a training place for all school-leavers.

Over a year, 150 young people in Glasgow, Dumbarton and Ayr who were on the Skillseekers programme or looking for a training place were interviewed. Just above half of those with no training experience had Standard grades and Scotvec modules. The report suggests that this group is over-represented in Skillseekers as a result of the two funding methods.

Skillseekers - which seeks to improve the quality and quantity of training - receives funding from local enterprise companies based on outcomes. Participants are required to reach "milestones" on the way to vocational qualifications or employment.

At the other end of the spectrum, funding is available for those deemed to have special training needs. It is not linked to outcomes.

Applicants with average qualifications who are not deemed to have special needs fall between the two. As they cannot obtain a training place, they cannot claim full social security benefit. Of those with no training place, 33 received some emergency benefit, but 41 got nothing.

The main author of the report, Peter Hunter, of the Scottish Low Pay Unit, said: "The fact that they are seen as risks is the problem. Employers are basically cherry-picking the best-qualified people because there's no risk in taking them on.

"When we set out to do the survey, we thought that it would be those deemed to have special training needs that would be suffering, but that's not the case."

Mr Hunter also criticised the attempt to introduce a market element into training. Those accepted on Skillseekers are given a Skillseekers card to purchase their training, with the cost reimbursed to the provider when the trainee is satisfied with the outcome.

According to Mr Hunter, this perpetuates cherry-picking as providers have even more incentive to select trainees who will achieve the milestones and authorise payment from the Lec. Training quality also raised doubts.

"The question that's begging to be asked is how many young people have refused to pay. I think that many do so to avoid trouble," Mr Hunter said.

Scottish Enterprise maintained that every school-leaver who wants a place will get one. Sheila Aitken, a skills project manager, said: "We have a Government guarantee to meet, and careers services are liaising with employers to ensure that all young people get one. We have not found a huge number of people not getting training. The evidence is that more young people are getting training to vocational qualification levels two and three."

Ms Aitken also criticised the report for coming too soon after the start of Skillseekers to give an accurate reflection of its concept and operation.

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