Investment in skills training needed to get low paid off benefits

The government has made it clear that it wants to help more people off of benefits by supporting them onto higher paid jobs. Chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) Stewart Segal looks at how the skills sector can help.

Although the apprenticeship levy stole the show in the summer budget, there were some significant changes to the way that welfare to work programmes will function under this government.

Getting people into work has always been an important part of the productivity challenge, but now the challenge is to give all low paid employees the opportunity to grow their earnings above the level at which they need to be supported by benefits.

That type of support for those already in work is now threatened by the continuing cuts in the adult skills budget.

Too often the support programmes for people cut in after they have been unemployed for too long.

For many years AELP has been promoting the need to link programmes for those out of work with those for people who need to improve their skills.

Finally, the government has seen the payback for doing just that.

For those who are unemployed, we have maintained that we need early intervention and more effective initial assessment.

Too often the support programmes for people cut in after they have been unemployed for too long.

Rectifying this has to be a priority for the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), which holds the funds to support those who have been unemployed for a short time.

Unfortunately, when the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills declared its priorities for the SFA’s funding, it did not include programmes for the unemployed.

It did, however, include traineeships, which is a programme for those who are unemployed up to the age of 24.

The programme must become the focus of support for young people. We know that the government is now looking at the rules around length and considering who should be able to deliver it. We must get more flexibility across all of these components and allow all quality providers to deliver the programme.

There are a number of benefit changes in the budget which must be implemented carefully.

These include the removal of housing benefit from many young people.

The government has suggested there may be exceptions and it is the degree of flexibility of how this new rule will be imposed that will be key.

Many young people need their own homes because of difficult family circumstances and it may well be important for getting or keeping a job.

It is important that employment and training providers are involved in those decisions.

We also believe that all young people should be able to take out a maintenance loan which is available to those young people going to university. It may help manage the transition from housing benefit.

Now, 21 -24 year olds who have been out of work for six months will have to accept a choice of getting a job (which might include an apprenticeship), going on a traineeship programme or doing some volunteering that would give them some useful work experience.

Otherwise, they might lose their benefits. Clearly this new approach will only work if the support required for these young people is available and real opportunities can be created.

It will inevitably mean additional investment in those programmes. But we are currently facing a situation where a number of traineeship providers do not have the contract to expand the programme.

They have established effective programmes with employers but they are not able to get approval for the additional budget required.

The government has to make the commitment to ensure the investment will be there.

Given that investment, we believe providers can give young people effective choices that will get into or nearer to the job market.

We can’t ignore the impact of another high profile change in the budget.

The adoption of a living wage for those over 25 may mean that employers think twice about recruiting someone without basic skills in order to help them develop those skills over a period of time. It may also mean that employers recruit younger people where the Living Wage will not apply.

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