The number of young people “Not in Employment, Education or Training” (NEETs), continues to rise inexorably and has now reached alarming proportions. We are in serious danger of producing a whole generation of people who will only work occasionally or at worst, never. The social problems that would be created by such a scenario are frightening and go some way to explaining the urgency with which the government is now trying to tackle the problem via its “Welfare to Work” programme and the recently launched “Youth Contract”.
I believe that the fundamental problem is a total disconnect between young people, the education system and employers. This belief is borne out by a recent report produced jointly by the CIPD and the TUC which argued for a systematic and structured approach to bridging the gulf between the three key stakeholders. There are varied and complex reasons why this gulf exists: poor career advice is one and a total misconception of work experience as “slave labour” is another.
But at the heart of the issue lies the lack of basic workplace skills.
I have blogged before about the problem of poor maths and English skills and the hope that the introduction of Functional Skills will result in a dramatic improvement. But the problem goes further. Many NEETs struggle with basic workplace skills because they simply have never been introduced to them in school or in Welfare to Work programmes.
There are some people who argue that Apprenticeships are the answer to this problem. They point out that 70% of Apprentices are existing employees and believe that we can tackle the NEET crisis by offering them an Apprenticeship programme as soon as they find employment.
I would argue that such a strategy would be totally counter-productive. Young people starting their first job, perhaps after many months or even years without employment, cannot possible be expected to cope with the rigours of a formal, structured training programme, nor have the discipline required to last the course. Their previous learning experiences will often have been poor. We need to find a way of coaxing them back and getting them to realise that by taking ownership of their learning, they have a genuine chance not just simply to hold down a job, but to develop a career.
So we need to develop a programme of “pre-Apprenticeship training” which will provide a bridge to the full range of Apprenticeship programmes. Without such a bridge in place, stepping on to the Apprenticeship ladder will always be difficult. I have spoken to a number of employers over recent weeks who have submitted bids for the “Employer Ownership Funding Pilot” and in every case, their focus has been on this area. Some Awarding Bodies are already starting to develop “pre-Functional Skills” modules and combined with Level 1 courses, they could form the basis of a range of “pre-Apprenticeship” programmes.
We believe that our huge library of “soft skill” training programmes linked to our expertise in basic maths and English training puts us in an excellent position to support pre-Apprenticeship training. We will be working closely with employers and Awarding Bodies to make a real impact on the current NEET crisis and provide our young people with the first step on the learning ladder.