Work experience revamped or exploitation reworked?

Young Jobseekers to work for benefits in government plans

Credit: Getty Images

Last week, London Mayor Boris Johnson and Employment Minister Chris Grayling announced the debut of an unprecedented scheme collaborating Job Seekers Allowance and mandatory work experience.

To be piloted in London, any young person aged 18 – 24 subscribing to Job Seekers Allowance who has not previously completed six months of paid employment will have to undertake the scheme.

The approved format involves each individual completing 30 hours of work a week for a consecutive 13-week period. A range of sectors will be available including charity work, social enterprises and voluntary organisations.

Talking about the scheme, Johnson stated that

‘London creates loads and loads of jobs but too often young Londonders who have talent don’t get into those jobs, so this is a way of giving them the confidence, the experience they need to compete in the jobs market.’

It is thought that 6,000 Londoners will initially be affected across 16 London boroughs including Croydon, Westminster, Barnet, Enfield and Southwark and, if deemed a success, could potentially be rolled out nation-wide. The employers will be contracted within the next few weeks with the aim to begin the scheme later this year.

Chris Grayling advocated that

‘By putting them into this programme they can put something into their local community through the community work part of it, they can get structured support to get into work to try and move them quickly off benefits and into work, but if they don’t want to take part, if they turn around and say “I want none of that”, I really don’t see why they should be able to claim benefits.’

As recently as May this year, David Miliband described the ‘chaotic landscape’ those not headed for university faced. The recession is not totally to blame for youth unemployment; it has been falling since 2003 – a time when the UK boasted economic growth. Furthermore, Miliband compared the UK’s apprenticeship climate with that of other countries with the state of youth unemployment appearing to be directly correlated.

While figures are currently average within the UK in comparison to Europe, Germany and the Netherlands have less than one in ten young people out of work. German employment foundations utilize apprenticeships far more, with the average scheme lasting three years compared to two within the UK. Furthermore, employers in other latitudes of the world are far more pro-active regarding apprentices. A third of Australian employers offer apprentice opportunities, while only 8% do the same in the UK. While the entire employment infrastructure cannot be reworked overnight, many would agree that something needs to change. The ambience of the London riots alone should signify as much.

On one hand, many recent reports have underlined the lack of basic skills and fundamental staples in school leavers. The scheme could prove to bridge this gap; enabling youngsters to acquire practical experience and tangible understanding of basics which may be applicable across a range of industries. Fuurthermore, Johnson proposes that a key aspect of the commitment includes a targeted package to help youngsters with CV writing and interview skills in order to help them acquire work.

However, the scheme is proving to be a source of much controversy to others, with many calling into question whether the initiative is a conscientious coalition effort towards wider social contribution or a cheap way Boris can fulfil his pledge to create 200,000 jobs within the next four years?

The offer of CV writing skills and interview help does sound appeasing, and many would agree that there are instances where Job Seekers Allowance is taken advantage of by symptoms of laziness and expectation. A couple of episodes of Jeremy Kyle can prove that much. Yet is it enough of a wide-scale problem to warrant such extensive free labour? Labour Assembly John Briggs argues no. He feels that

‘There’s a risk that this will feed a prejudice that people are sitting at home doing nothing when they should be working. The reality is that there are more than four applicants for every job in London and people want to work.’

Concerns that the scheme is encouraging free labour are felt, as are intrigues into the practicality of the intiative. This will definitely be a watch-this-space escapade, with both government commitment to youth employment and youngsters struggling to make way in the jobs market having something to prove, and everything to gain. If a success for both sides, the scheme could yield a formidable precedent in the battle against unemployment. Boris at the very least will be hoping that this is one small step for the coalition, and a giant leap for unemployed kind.


Olivia Dean

3rd September 2012

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