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Volunteers succeed in escaping the dole queue

There's no arguing with the figures: eight out of ten young people who gain a place with the Prince's Trust get a full-time job within a year. Ian Nash reports

More than 16,000 young adults have snatched up places on the Prince's Trust volunteer programme over the last two years. Two out of three have opted for it as a route out of unemployment and, so far, most have succeeded. And many leading companies send employees on courses with the trust to hone their management skills.

The latest statistics from the community-based programme suggest that eight out of ten have found work within a year of a 12-week attachment. Indeed, within three months, two-thirds were in work or full-time education or training.

This scheme - a model of private-public partnership - has had precious little publicity in the mainstream press. When Labour launched its pre-election Millennium Volunteers programme, it was dismissed by Conservative sympathisers as "get tough, copy-cat" policies and "the latest pre-election bid to out-Tory the Tories". If it is a copy of anything, it is a copy of the Prince's Trustinitiative.

Elizabeth Crowther-Hunt, head of community affairs at the trust, said: "Most people hear about it through other people, people who are motivated by community work."

It is the old adage that the best form of advertising is the personal recommendation. The programme started in 1990 with 10 pilots and is now running in 150 places. Partners in the programmes include the YMCA, fire service, Scottish Power, further education colleges, universities, community groups and youth organisations. Big organisations such as Marks and Spencer support the scheme. So impressed are they with it, they pay to send junior recruits on the schemes.

Elizabeth Crowther-Hunt said this was one of the keys to the schemes' success. "There is the same agenda for the employed and unemployed." And the unemployed quickly gain in self-esteem as a result. "Confidence, confidence, confidence - that is what they get out of it."

With such resonance of New Labour in the message, it is not surprising that the Millenium Volunteers - part of the Government's Welfare to Work initiative to take 250,000 young people off the dole - is certain to be a carbon copy of the trust's initiative. This year, more than 9,000 16- to 25-year-olds have volunteered for the Prince's Trust, almost a 50 per cent rise on the 5, 500 last year. They decide what sort of work they want to do, and they do it in their own communities.

Themes emerge: working with the disabled and people with special needs is popular. Attachments to primary schools and hospices - designing scent and touch gardens - work in improving access to parks for the disabled and attending day centres for adults are common requests.

If there is a difference in the motives of the employed and unemployed, said Elizabeth Crowther-Hunt, it is that the employed are more inclined to ask what's in it for them.

"We talk about the key skills employers bang on about: working in a team, communication skills, decison making, problem solving and caring for others. Each volunteer gets a City and Guilds profile of achievement plus credits for the key skills part of an NVQ."

Everyone gets this - employed or unemployed if they make the grade (very few do not), and the employment and post-scheme education and training record speaks for itself.

Cash for the scheme comes from existing government budgets, the training and enterprise councils and Further Education Funding Council. Other local services provide cash. One-fifth comes from employers who buy places on the schemes such as Kwik-Fit, Sainsbury's and Marks Spencer.

"But you can't really talk about cost in that way," said Elizabeth Crowther-Hunt. Consumer research has shown the success rate of young people after the scheme. "The cost per person on a 12-week programme if employed and four weeks if unemployed is Pounds 1,000. But what they put back into the community has been independently valued at around Pounds 1,000. They are actually doing things for the community."

Companies have no doubt about the value as part of their staff development programmes.M S sent 30 young recruits last year and 70 this. Yvonne Pennicott, head of community involvement, said: "The partnership enables us to provide opportunities for young members of staff, sales and operations assistants, to go out and develop skills like planning and team work. But it is more than that; it is a broadening experience.

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