Jobless opt for learning

7th August 1998 at 01:00
The option of full-time education or training offered under the New Deal, Labour's programme designed to help the young unemployed, is proving much more attractive than expected.

Ministers expected the education option - the others are work, the voluntary sector or an environmental task force - to account for about one-quarter of all participants.

But so far, 27 per cent have signed up for education or training and in some areas it is much higher.

In Sheffield 46 per cent had chosen this option and in Newcastle the figure was 50 per cent.

The parliamentary education and employment select committee this week published a report on the New Deal, which has now been running for seven months.

It found that: "It is too early to say with certainty that the New Deal works but we find the initial evidence of success very encouraging. Young people are showing enthusiasm in the programme, as are the Employment Service staff in making it work."

ES district managers told MPs the attraction of the education option was not related to a lack of jobs in the local economies "but rather. . . young people were acknowledging that the labour market had changed since their parents had moved from school into work. Young people were now recognising the importance of gaining skills (particularly IT skills), and were taking advantage of the full-time education and training option as a result."

The MPs said the Further Education Funding Council should examine ways of building on the New Deal to increase participation in lifelong learning.

There was some concern that not enough was being done to help ethnic minorities.

Representatives of these communities had said that the Employment Service viewed black organisations as being "incapable and inefficient" and were not given the chance "to show what they could achieve. . ."

This had been strongly denied by the Employment Service. One problem was that according to ethnic communities a large proportion of the young black New Deal target group - possibly 50 per cent or more - was not claiming jobseeker's allowance. As receipt of the allowance is a condition for access to the New Deal, the implication was that the programme was not reaching those in most need.

The select committee called upon the Government to conduct a large-scale survey of the extent of unregistered unemployment upon young people, paying particular attention to people from ethnic minorities.

The Employment Service needed to establish close working relationships between those responsible for leading the New Deal in each area, and those who commanded respect within local ethnic communities, it said.

MPs noted it was difficult to know how many jobs were being created directly as a result of the subsidy being offered to employers by the Government. A big test of the success of the New Deal would be the proportion of employees retained when the six-month subsidy ran out.

"It seemed to us that the Employment Service is doing little to reduce the risk that the New Deal recruit may find their job ends with the subsidy, and they are once again signing on rather than clocking on."

There was evidence too of young people being offered too many interviews, with often little chance of success. There was a danger that "the morale of young people who have to present themselves to large numbers of abortive job interviews will suffer, and the willingness of the employer to accept a New Deal recruit will be damaged as well, " said the MPs.

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