The Department for Work and Pensions has announced a new work experience pilot for young people in Derbyshire.
Designed and run by the local Jobcentre Plus, the scheme will target around 2,000 18 to 24 year olds in the district who have been on Jobseekers Allowance for more than six months, yet have gained little or no recent work experience. They will have to take part in an eight week programme, will be expected to do 30 hours of work for the benefit of their communities and will also receive six hours of intensive job seeking support per week.
The scheme will be mandatory, so anyone refusing to take part will face losing their benefits.
The government's previous optional work experience scheme was mired in controversy earlier this year, with some Jobcentre staff accused of telling jobseekers that placements were compulsory and some businesses accused of exploitation.
Andrew Thomas district manager of Derbyshire Jobcentre Plus said:
"Right now it's a tough labour market out there and we want to make sure that the young people we work with have the best chance of succeeding.
"Our trailblazer will help people develop good working habits, such as turning up to work on time, as well as the right training and experience – something that employers have told us they’re crying out for."
Minister for Employment, Mark Hoban said:
"It's unacceptable that in the past many young people who didn't have the necessary skills or experience they needed to get into work were stuck on benefits.
"We're changing that and making sure that we give young jobseekers the support they need early on, when it can really make a difference to their job prospects."
This new regional scheme introduces the idea of compulsory work experience, and there must be a concern that this is the thin end of the wedge. This is strange when previous schemes were criticised because Jobcentre staff told jobseekers wrongly that they were compulsory; the lesson should have been that mandatory activity is disengaging and young people need encouragement and support, not that the compulsory element needed introducing. If work experience is to be valuable to an individual it is better that they choose it through being sold its benefits, as they are likely to gain more from it through this positive choice.
The DWP may already be forgetting the slating it took earlier this year, and the fact that it struggled to persuade employers to be part of work experience schemes when this criticism was reported.
UnemployedNet has introduced some minimum standards for work placements, and one of the most important is that the benefit should primarily be to the jobseeker; the company gets the benefit of free labour and so it is fair that they are required to provide something valuable in return. We believe the government should focus on its supportive role if it wants to improve the employability of young people.