Work Programme needs to focus on the right skills

A leading adult learning charity has said a £435 million government programme introduced 18 months ago to get the long-term unemployed back into work has failed to train people in the skills they need to get a job.

The Work Programme has been attacked after official figures revealed that just one in 28 unemployed people referred to the scheme had found a job that continued for six months.

The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) called for participants to be assessed on entry to the programme and particularly criticised its failure to recognise that some needed to be taught basic English and maths.

David Cameron defended the flagship scheme in Parliament, describing it as “the right programme”.

The Prime Minister said: “It is worth remembering that the Work Programme is dealing with the hardest to-work cases there are in our country. These are people, adults, who have been out of work for over a year and young people who have been out of work for over nine months.”

At the very least there needs to be training for those who lack skills in English and maths”

NIACE chief executive David Hughes said the figures were disappointing. “We know from our own development work around this issue that far too many Work Programme providers are simply not providing the skills’ training needed for clients to make the journey into sustained and secure employment,” he said.

“We know that there are not enough jobs at present. However, that makes it even more important to provide skills training for people now so that they have the skills they, and the economy, will need in the future.

“At the very least there needs to be training for those who lack skills in English and maths, as these can be huge barriers to work. We also believe that there needs to be, for those who have good English and maths skills, sector specific training.”

The charity said inconsistent provision of English, maths and language training between providers was a problem.

“Some prime providers have elected to address English and maths skills’ needs in some parts of the contract package areas, but many haven’t,” said a spokesperson. “Sometimes, even where provision exists in one part of a contract package area, in other parts it does not.”

NIACE added that it was important to hear from Work Programme participants.

In December the organisation will publish a guide for Work Programme providers on how to give more structured skills support and advice on securing Skills Funding Agency cash.

The Association of Colleges said people were being let down by the scheme.

Teresa Frith, AoC skills policy manager, said: “The statistics show that it’s difficult to move people from long-term unemployment into sustainable work. The Department of Work and Pensions decided in 2010 to run the Work Programme with large national contracts, some of which were given to big companies with a limited track record. It may be time for a rethink.”