Powers over education and training for young people need to be localised to avert an employment crisis.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, improving youth participation in education was a key priority for councils and combined authorities – not only because of our statutory duties towards young people, but also for its significance to the future workforce of our local economies.
While youth participation rates have improved, to 81.6 per cent over recent years, the challenge for local government has remained.
Although we have a number of statutory duties relating to youth participation, including ensuring all young people up to the age of 18 are engaged in high quality education and training (and up to 25 for disadvantaged groups), we lack the appropriate formal levers – power and resources – to undertake these responsibilities effectively.
Most of the provision for young people continues to be nationally commissioned by Whitehall departments without any assessment of local need.
Over several months, the LGA engaged with sector colleagues and many of the leading education, employment and skills organisations across England to look at the challenges of the current system and to explore and develop potential solutions.
Then COVID-19 came along. It will be some time after furlough ends before official statistics start to reflect the real impact of the pandemic on the labour market, and young people.
But many experts indicate that young people will be disproportionately affected – particularly those in schools and colleges, on apprenticeships, or in sectors mostly bearing the brunt of the pandemic crisis.
What started as a health crisis will become an economic and employment crisis as well, unless bold action is taken to avert this catastrophe.
As part of the LGA’s jobs and skills recovery response, we are calling on the Government to:
- provide greater apprenticeship flexibilities to enable local pooling
- pause the expiry of apprenticeship levy funds
- establish local ‘training agency’ models to keep people employed
- create jobs for people and places where back to work and/or training support is insufficient
- extend the September offer for guaranteed education, employment or training places for those due to leave school or college
- consider maintenance grants for those on the September offer who are disadvantaged and are, or at risk of becoming, not in education, employment or training (NEET).
With the potential for more than a million young people to be a NEET statistic this September, the scale of the challenge facing our young people is enormous.
The Government’s recent announcements of Opportunity Guarantee measures, apprenticeship bonus, traineeship incentives, a kickstart scheme for under-25s, and further investment in careers advice and guidance are positive, and will go some way to supporting young people through this difficult period.
But these can only be successful if they are localised by building on councils’ local intelligence and delivery models, working in partnership with employers and providers.
Councils and combined authorities have already gallantly shown how they can respond rapidly to local needs by forging partnerships, adapting provision and delivering advice and support to young people in need.
We now stand ready to play an equal part with government in the economic recovery – supporting young people to ensure that the next generation doesn’t end up as a forgotten generation.