Written by Lindsay Evans, Managing Director, Sgiliau
As the impact of Brexit and the pandemic works through the economy and the workplace, few people need more help and support than those who are ‘NEET’ – 16- to 24-year-olds Not in Employment, Education or Training. It’s a situation that people of all ages, backgrounds and experiences can find themselves in, but it typically traps the most vulnerable in our society: people who want to find their place in life but who lack the confidence, connections, role models or knowhow to take that vital first step in getting trained to do a worthwhile job.
“NEETs should be at the top of the agenda”
Given the human, social and economic cost of long-term (and that can mean life-long) unemployment, NEETs should arguably be near the top of the agenda in terms of support and resourcing. But I believe the very opposite is true: and the situation could become much worse.
For 40 years, I’ve worked to help people get the best possible training and employment opportunities – founding Sgiliau as a new kind of learning organisation that develops confidence and self-esteem through bespoke learning programmes tailored to individual needs, delivered in a supportive and ‘safe’ environment.
Our programmes for 16-24 year olds provide young people who are often marginalised or disaffected with inspirational activities that can include music, photography, filmmaking, animation, textiles and fashion – and has achieved measurable success in helping build the much-needed talent pipeline for South Wales’ fast-growing Creative Industries.
“Developing confidence and self-esteem, delivering measurable success in securing employment”
But I genuinely believe that we’re in danger of leaving the most vulnerable NEETs behind and the overall system is not working as well as it could. We were among the first training providers to reopen full-time in February, providing face-to-face engagement to vulnerable learners – but from April, we fear our government funding allocation for Traineeships will not be sufficient to address the massive needs that we see every day in our outreach work. So even though we have recruited throughout the pandemic and increased the number of NEETs we now work with by 44% since the first lock-down to deliver some exceptional results – we now have to curtail our efforts in the geographical areas we work in. It doesn’t make sense that these vulnerable young people will be further disadvantaged as they have been largely ignored from attracting additional funding to address the fall-out of Covid-19. We need to look long and hard at this – as there needs to be more targeted and equitable allocation of Traineeship funding to ensure that all geographical areas get sufficient levels of funding to meet local needs.
“We’re in danger of leaving the most vulnerable NEETs behind”
I’m concerned that investment in training is not always focused in areas where it could be most effective. Last week, the Welsh Government announced an £18.7million allocation to employers, at £4,000 per head, to incentivise them to take on Apprentices. It doubtless comes from the wish to do the right thing – and any investment in skilling is to be applauded – but in my experience businesses do not employ people for a cash incentive that does not cover the wages and employment costs. They only employ people wholeheartedly if they have a need. So are we investing in the right places and the right way? Sgiliau is here for vulnerable young people who are not yet ready for Apprenticeships – but will, with the right support and encouragement, find the motivation and courage to train, get the skills they need and become a productive part of society and the economy. Surely we should be investing adequately in that or condemn this group of young people to a very bleak future as early long-term unemployment has severe life-long negative impact? Apprenticeships are a wonderful opportunity – but you have to be able to get one. The young people we work with on Traineeships need to get to the starting place where they can get an Apprenticeship.
“Vulnerable people can develop valuable skills”
Vulnerable people can develop valuable skills if they’re engaged and supported in the right way, so organisations like Sgiliau play an incredibly important role, especially if we are part of a co-ordinated plan to skill and continually re-skill the Welsh working population. This fourth industrial age that we now live in is an opportunity as well as a challenge: and with the right resources and approach, we can connect with the innate motivations of people currently not in employment, education or training; and give them the sense of purpose and confidence they need to enjoy a full and fulfilling working life.
For more information about Sgiliau visit https://www.sgiliau.wales/about