Thousands of unemployed people are being denied the opportunity to receive work-based training at colleges, according to a report by the Association of Colleges (AoC). Bureaucratic rules and a lack of coordination are stopping colleges from working with the jobless and providing them with the courses they need to return to employment, the report said.
There is a huge disparity in the number of referrals from Jobcentre Plus. During a three-month period, the top 20 per cent of offices referred more than 500 people to colleges for retraining, while the bottom 20 per cent referred fewer than 50 people. "Some colleges get a thousand referrals a month," said Teresa Frith, the AoC's skills policy manager. "Others say, 'We were anticipating #163;400,000 of work with unemployed people and we only spent #163;30,000.' They haven't had the referrals they were expecting."
Of the 2.6 million people who are unemployed, more than 220,000 received training at colleges last year, the report said. But more could be done if further information was made available to both colleges and Jobcentre Plus staff. More than half of colleges (55 per cent) said they could not track students' progress into employment because Jobcentre Plus claimed that the information was under data protection.
"Just because people are referred, that doesn't mean they are going to turn up. You can point the horse at water, but it won't necessarily drink," Ms Frith said. "Someone could undertake a four-week programme agreed with Jobcentre Plus and then just not show up. It might be because they're not bothered or it might be because they got a job."
Just under half of colleges also criticised restrictions placed on them by Skills Funding Agency (SFA) or Jobcentre Plus regulations. Colleges said that courses in driving heavy goods vehicles or food hygiene could quickly equip someone for the labour market, but the training is barred from public funding because it should be provided by employers.
Swindon College has seen courses such as its introduction to construction lose a third of their funding, with no money for the essential health and safety element. There is also little support for courses below level 1 for people with low prior attainment. "There's very little money available for vocational elements with unemployed people," said Evelyn Little, the college's director of business development and employer engagement.
Meanwhile, Jobcentre Plus's 16-hour rule, which means that students lose jobseeker's allowance if they join a full-time course, has long been seen as an obstacle to helping people into employment. Ms Frith said that it meant much of colleges' work with unemployed people was on short employability courses.
Hackney Community College offers a two-and-a-half-day work skills course, followed by two weeks of industry training, because longer, full-time courses are blocked by benefits rules. Ms Frith, who visited the college earlier this month, said that about 10 per cent of its students found jobs, although there was a greater increase in the number of interview offers.
Kevin Baudrier, a 23-year-old father of three, was one of the lucky ones: he found a job with the catering company Sodexo, which has a large contract with Hackney Community College. "We provided the employer with a reference for Kevin, which they valued more highly than his previous history or current status," said Bradley Isaacs, the college's employment coordinator.
Mr Baudrier is continuing to study at the college alongside working. However, as around 60 per cent of colleges reported, the biggest obstacle to their work with the unemployed is simply the lack of job opportunities: training can only do so much.
The average college provides training for more than 1000 unemployed people a year.
98% of colleges recruit unemployed students via Jobcentre Plus.
89% of colleges say their relationship with Jobcentre Plus is excellent or good, but nearly half say Jobcentre Plus staff lack knowledge of what colleges offer.
More than half of colleges say problems with tracking student progress to employment are a barrier to working with jobless people.
Nearly half of colleges say restrictive funding rules get in the way of helping people into work.