Older people will become eligible to enter Training for Work, the Government's main programme for the long-term adult unemployed, as soon as they lose their jobs rather than having to wait for six months as at present.
"This would recognise the difficulty people in this age-group often have in returning to work, and the aim of encouraging increased labour market participation by over-50-year-olds," a 78-page consultative paper* from the Executive states.
The new proposals for the long-term unemployed, unveiled by Henry McLeish, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, also suggest that immediate entry to Training for Work should continue to be available to those most prone to long-term unemployment - victims of large-scale redundancies, the disabled, people with literacy and numeracy problems, former offenders, former Armed Forces regulars and lone parents.
Ministers also suggest extending eligibility for Training for Work to those with "recurring spells of unemployment" such as people on temporary contracts or who have been unable to find "sustainable jobs". They must have been unemployed for at least six months in the previous 12.
"Helping people to get a job, and keep a job, is crucial in helping to promote a more inclusive society," Mr McLeish said.
He pledged that the renewd programme would take account of the aspirations of individuals as well as the interests of employers, but said responsiveness to new skills demanded by the labour market would be essential.
Mr McLeish symbolically drew these strands together by launching the latest blueprint at the NetCon-X Enterprise training company in Glasgow. NetCon-X specialises in web design and computer-based training linked to work placements. Some 210 trainees were helped last year.
The number of adults starting out on the Training for Work programme has fallen from more than 30,000 a year in the mid-1990s to fewer than 1,500 in 1999 2000, with a consequential reduction in the budget to pound;48 million in the three years to 2002. This fall partly reflects the fact that unemployed 18-24s, who formed a quarter of the Training for Work group, are now separately funded.
Although there is evidence that Training for Work does help adults into jobs - a Scottish Enterprise evaluation found 47 per cent of the group were in employment eight to 14 months after leaving the programme - ministers want a more systematic tracking system to find out how long former trainees stick with their jobs.
The consultation paper therefore proposes that half of the Training for Work budget should be dedicated to improving basic skills, which it argues will make trainees more employable and contribute to lifelong learning.
* Developing Skills and Employability: Training for the Long-Term Unemployed.