Doubts cast on whether the new deal can be effective
Bruce Heil, education convener for the College Lecturers' Association, expressed concern that welfare-to-work could repeat "the utter disasters of previous schemes in which there was no attempt to understand the needs of young people who were simply shipped into work experience, shipped into colleges, given no support and no resources and simply left to sink or swim".
Colleges could also face problems in being forced to deal with "a reluctant group of people dragooned into training programmes," a warning echoed by Mr Leech in his article above.
Mr Heil, offering what he stressed was a personal view, said he expected union members would lend their broad support but hoped that the training period could be extended, perhaps by linking it to the Skillseekers programme of employer-based training.
The Employment Service, which is in charge of the programme throughout the UK, stresses that the six months of work andor training is not a maximum period; it is simply the time during which the public subsidy will be available. The Government hopes that the unemployed will then move into a permanent job or further training thereafter.
Evelyn McCann, head of skills at Scottish Enterprise, also believes that the young unemployed would benefit from building on the Skillseekers approach for 16 to 18-year-olds, where "output-related funding" links employers' payments to the vocational qualifications achieved by the participants. It is building a successful track record not only in placing trainees with employers but in achieving full-time jobs for young people; 65 per cent of school leavers who have completed the programme have found work.
Mrs McCann comments: "The new deal approach of using training resources to get people out of welfare and into work is exactly in line with our agenda. Building on the Skillseekers model would help to ensure that employers don't come to regard it as 'just another scheme'."
But Mike Dick, chairman of the Scottish Training Federation, criticised the "annually renegotiated, reducing funding base" of the Skillseekers programme which forces most training providers to subsidise Government grants.
He warned that lack of consultation with training providers in the past over the design of programmes is one of the reasons why a new deal for 18 to 24-year-olds is now required. The Government appears to have learned that lesson, however, and is holding local consultations throughout the country.
Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, hoped new deal training could be implemented without any proliferation of the managing agents of the past, middle-men charged with finding work and training placements. The Fast-Trac pilot in Fife had shown that direct contracting between the local enterprise company, employers and colleges was more effective. "It means you get more for your bucks," he said.
Glasgow and Dumbarton are to help pilot "workskill" programmes which will allow 4,000 long-term unemployed to keep their benefit while studying, the Government announced last week. Eight areas across the UK will act as a stepping stone towards the new deal for the over-25s, Alan Howarth, the employment minister, said. Around 12,000 people will be involved and the pilots will last for a year.
Some of the workskill programmes, intended to test the cost-effectiveness of relaxing the benefit rules, will be part-time but the Glasgow and Dumbarton projects along with two in England will run full-time courses. Eligibility will depend not only on applicants' qualifications and work experience but also on whether there is a demand for the jobs to which the courses will contribute.