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23.04.15

Helping the individual NEET, not the NEET problem

Source: PSE - April/ May 15

Will Nixon runs PM Training, which helps young people into apprenticeships and is part of social regeneration business the Aspire Group, of which he is deputy CEO.

Both the Conservative and Labour parties have put forward potential reforms to the benefit system for young people aged 18 to 21 who are not in employment, education or training (NEETs). 

David Cameron announced that all NEETs would be required to complete 30 hours of community work weekly alongside 10 additional hours of job hunting to receive ‘Youth Allowance’. In contrast, Ed Miliband put forward the concept of six-monthly employed positions paid for by the bankers’ bonus tax, and a guarantee of apprenticeships for all school leavers who ‘got the grades’ by 2020. 

On the surface, both proposed policies offer a solution to the longstanding number of young NEETs across the UK by providing guaranteed employment, alongside the clear message from David Cameron that to receive help and support from the government, individuals will be required to give back to the community. 

However, if we dig a little deeper and really analyse the impact of the proposed reforms, it is clear that although both parties are committed to addressing the NEET problem and providing apprenticeship opportunities, there is little mention as to how NEETs will be supported and, more importantly, how the government and businesses can work hand-in-hand to prevent young people from falling into the NEET category to begin with. 

Most individuals who end up within the NEET category do not enjoy education and do not get on well at school. This may be because they are unable to thrive within the classroom environment, or – for those who may not have had the best start in life – they may not receive the support they require at home. Has each political party considered what they can do to support these young people or how they can work with businesses to promote a clear pathway to sustainable employment at an earlier stage in their school life? 

As they currently stand, the policies put forward by both David Cameron and Ed Miliband may actually increase the number of NEETs in the UK. For example, proposed reforms to the apprenticeship entry requirements could actually ostracise many young people unable to attain a C grade or above in GCSE Maths and English, cutting off a clear pathway to sustainable employment. 

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Research into the effects of the potential apprenticeship reforms commissioned by the Aspire Group and undertaken by Brendan Nevin of North Housing Consulting at the end of 2014 supports this point. The research concluded that the potential reforms would condemn many would-be apprentices to a future of disadvantage and failure – suggesting an adverse impact on the NEET statistics.  

At PM Training, Aspire Group’s subsidiary training partnership, there are many young people who cannot achieve a C grade or above in GCSE Maths and English, but this does not mean they would or have made bad employees – in fact in most cases it is quite the opposite. 

One former PM Training apprentice highlighted as an example of someone who might never have qualified is 21-year-old Steven Ellis, of Abbey Hulton, Stoke-on-Trent. He came to PM Training with no GCSEs at all after being in trouble at school and having family difficulties at home. 

Steven went on to achieve both level 2 and 3 apprenticeships in landscape gardening and in 2012 he won the Youthbuild UK Awards and WorldSkills UK gold award for landscaping. He now runs his own landscape gardening business with his brother Richard. 

Supporting young people of different academic abilities at an earlier stage in life, instead of implementing policies that apply years down the line, I believe, would surely reduce the number of NEETs and therefore the number of individuals requiring financial support across the UK. 

Overall, implementing a policy to reduce the number of NEETs should bring focus to preventing the cause, rather than addressing the symptom.

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Will Nixon

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