“I AM sure that every Member of this House believes it is a tragedy that so many of our young people are not in work, education or training. Nearly two-thirds of unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds have not done any kind of work since leaving school or college. That trend has accelerated over a number of years; not just over the eight months of this Government, as the motion states.
The motion is right about the need for urgent action to tackle long-term joblessness among our young people. However, the future jobs fund is not the answer, as the Minister has explained. It has been expensive and ineffective. What we need is support that delivers real skills and jobs, and that adds to the employability of young people. With that in mind, I endorse the Government’s commitment to investing further in apprenticeships. I believe that the Work programme will provide personalised help based on individual needs, through working with private and voluntary providers. Ultimately, we need more engagement with employers to equip young people with the skills that will enable them to find work.
So far, this debate has centred on what we do to help young people when they become unemployed. I would like to talk about initiatives in my constituency that are intended to prevent young people from becoming unemployed. That means investing in skills training for young people while they are of school age. In areas such as mine, where comparatively few young people go on to university, such initiatives are extremely important if we are to get the proportion of people not in employment, training or work down further.
The first initiative is run by one of the new academies in my constituency, the Gateway Academy in Tilbury, which has gone out of its way to develop a strong focus on employment options and to offer advice to its pupils. It has developed a curriculum that is tailored to the needs of its pupils and to the job opportunities in the area. In addition, it has established a project called Gateway Connect, which uses a redundant industrial workshop as a strong vocational learning facility to offer pupils work-based training and vocational qualifications. Through that project, 18 pupils have been able to pursue vocational training and only two are not in employment, education or training now that they have left. That shows the impact of such strong work-based projects. With that focus, the proportion of pupils who become NEETs on leaving the school has fallen from 18% in 2008 to a mere 4% in 2010. That makes the case for tackling this problem in schools, rather than waiting until young people are on the dole.
There are other projects in Thurrock that are not based on the school curriculum. In a week in which we have considered the big society, I would like to share with the House some examples of imaginative and proactive partnership working that I have witnessed on the ground in Thurrock to give young people more skills. Thurrock trade school offers evening classes to children aged 14 to 16 who want to learn a trade. It offers courses in carpentry, bricklaying, plumbing and electrics. Young people attend two-hour classes over 12 weeks. The courses are sponsored by Morrison, a local building contractor, which provides tools and mentoring to guide young people towards the opportunities that might be open to them through pursuing the training. Morrison has also engaged as apprentices people who have been through the courses.
The background to Morrison’s involvement is that it was awarded the housing maintenance contract by Thurrock council. As part of that contract, the council asked it to invest in such training. That is a brilliant illustration of how imagination can be used to make use of commercial partnerships to deliver outcomes for the benefit of the entire society. That is the kind of thinking we want to encourage as we build the big society. The example of Thurrock trade school also illustrates the value of working with employers, because they will invest in the skills that they need. We all benefit from such involvement.
Finally, we need to open the eyes of young people to the opportunities that work-based training can bring. With that in mind, I commend another initiative to the House: Thurrock’s Next Top Boss awards. Next Top Boss is another partnership scheme that is run by Thurrock council, the Thurrock development corporation and a large number of private employers such as Procter & Gamble, Carpetright and other big employers that operate in Thurrock. The competition is open to 17 to 19-year-olds. The objective for the employers is to help equip teenagers with the skills, confidence and contacts they need to enter the world of work. Competitors are invited to take part in events in which they can show all their skills, such as working with a team and responding to projects. The employers that participate can show the vast assortment of careers that are available in their organisations. The incentive for the young people is that they compete for prizes, including gift vouchers, work placements and even jobs. It is, dare I say it, “The Apprentice”, Thurrock-style. Central to its success is the involvement of local employers that are attracted to the opportunity to identify future apprentices for their workplace and to showcase the opportunities that they offer.
I do not mourn the passing of the future jobs fund. I look forward to the Government’s reforms delivering improvements in the opportunities available to young people. I hope that Thurrock’s big society examples will inspire other employers, councils, schools and voluntary organisations, as they consider how they can contribute to tackling joblessness among our young people.