Learning and Working from the MSC to New Labour: Young People, Skills and Employment

By Unwin, Lorna | National Institute Economic Review, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Learning and Working from the MSC to New Labour: Young People, Skills and Employment


Unwin, Lorna, National Institute Economic Review


This paper argues that successive governments since the 1980s have struggled to establish the necessary foundations to enable the majority of young people to make effective and supported transitions from education to the labour market and, further, to create labour market conditions that protect and nurture young people's potential. The paper sets its analysis within a time-frame that began in 1981 and has come full circle in 2010 with the Labour Government's announcement of the Young Person's Guarantee. Whilst acknowledging that current economic conditions, and the predicted severe cuts in public spending, will make it difficult for an incoming government to make significant changes, the paper argues that new approaches are required to revitalise both the economy and individual life chances.

Keywords: Youth; skills; recession; apprenticeship; demand

Introduction

A new general election campaign poster for the Labour Party was launched on Easter Saturday warning voters that the election of a Conservative government under David Cameron, "would take Britain on a time-travel journey back to the socially divisive early-80s when the nation was scarred by youth unemployment and social unrest" (www.labour.org.uk/dont-let-him-take-britainback-to-the-1980s). Some might argue that Labour's choice of words is rather risky given that the latest figures for unemployment in the United Kingdom for 18-24-year-olds stand at 715,000 (17.5 per cent), close to the level in 1981, whilst, in England, 177,000 16-18-year-olds are officially categorised as NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) (see ONS, 2010; DCSF/BIS, 2010). In addition, the Government has been faced with hundreds of apprentices being made redundant and employer demand for apprentices drying up just at the point when it was hoping to expand numbers. Furthermore, the announcement in the Budget on 24 March of the 'Young Person's Guarantee' for 18-24-year-olds saw the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, set his own time machine back to 1981 and the measures introduced by the then Manpower Services Commission (MSC) to reduce youth unemployment.

The 'guarantee' for l 8-24-year-olds comes on top of the guarantee of a place in training for 16 and 17-year-olds that has been in place since the 1980s and was introduced when the Thatcher Government removed the right of young people who had left school to claim welfare benefits. Some 16 and 17-year-olds are eligible for assistance in extreme circumstances, but the vast majority who remain out of work or do not join a training scheme become classified as NEET. The new 'guarantee' is for 18-24-year-olds who have spent six months officially looking for employment and are in receipt of the 'Jobseekers Allowance'. It 'offers':

* the opportunity to apply for new jobs created through the Future Jobs Fund;

* support to apply for an existing job in a key employment sector;

* work-focused training;

* a place on a Community Task Force;

* help with self-employment;

* internships for Graduates and non-Graduates.

From April 2010, young people will be required to take up one of these offers by the end of the 10-month point of their claim. According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) website, "This will ensure that no young adult is permanently disadvantaged by the recession" (http://research.dwp.gov.uk/campaigns/ futurejobsfund/youngpersons.asp). The guarantee forms part of the Government's 'Backing Young Britain' campaign, which the DWP describes as "a rallying call to businesses, charities and government bodies to create more opportunities for young people" (ibid), who are being asked to commit to at least one of the following initiatives:

1. to become a volunteer mentor for school or university leavers to help them find their feet in the jobs market;

2. provide work experience places, volunteering places or a work trial to help young people learn about work, make contacts and fill their CV;

3. …

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