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Why it’s important to help NEETs at home and abroad

indexRecently CCW Training Academy teamed up with large French work-placement company InStep Groupe to help their jobseekers find employment experience in Wales. Our two organisations, through a French government-funded exchange scheme, are working together to identify, train, then place French ‘NEETs’ (not in education, employment or training) with employers in Wales.

The aim of the scheme is to give them greater confidence in their job-seeking abilities as well as experience of working for an overseas employer which will greatly enhance their CVs.

Why would a training provider be getting involved with this type of exchange scheme, you might ask. Well, we believe this type of programme offers valuable lessons for Wales.

Too many young people lack the social skills needed to get their first job, whether they are in Wales or the rest of Europe. This is recognised by the French government, and we are thrilled to be a part of their scheme, which is run through a long-established and extremely experienced organisation in InStep Groupe.

We had already completed a pilot scheme with them, and the young people we helped all gave the programme fantastic feedback, and many of them are even now gaining valuable experience with employers in Wales.

Young people can lack the ‘soft skills’ needed for the jobs available to them, particularly in the service sector – such as communication, team working and customer service – and they need help at this crucial point of transition. We know that if young people haven’t got on to the first rung of the job ladder by 24, they will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives. Many NEET young people face a Catch-22: they don’t have the so-called ‘soft skills’ employers are looking for, but often the only opportunity to learn those skills is on the job.

The growing number of NEETs reflects a major shift in the labour market in the past decade, which has caused a mismatch between the jobs available and the skills of those who are out of work. It means that more than half of NEETs will never have had any sustained experience of a job.

Such youngsters need personalised guidance, workplace mentors and introductions to business networks, as well as work experience which leads to paid employment. This is why schemes such as this are so important, as employers in France will sit up and take notice of candidates who have taken the bold step of getting this type of work experience overseas, right here in Wales.

InStep Groupe is a not-for-profit organisation supporting French jobseekers into sustainable employment. They work in some of the most deprived areas of France to address the challenges faced by people who are long-term unemployed. And, it can be argued, their task is even greater than the one facing us here.

Youth unemployment in France currently sit at 22%, making it a major problem. It’s particularly bad for those who have left school without qualifications – if you haven’t got any qualifications, you can’t get any experience, and if you haven’t got any experience, companies won’t hire you.

They have fewer marketable skills than older workers on average, and hence find it hardest to get work in periods of high unemployment, not least because redundant workers with more skills ‘trade down’ to lower paid jobs. The longer they are out of work, the harder it is to get them in: they lose motivation; they lose the skills they do have through lack of use; and they are more likely to succumb to mental illness, alcoholism and drugs, and crime.

France has raised the percentage of young people large firms must employ if they want to avoid a penalty tax, but such schemes are unlikely to help that much: they are limited to particular sizes of companies, in order to keep the costs low for the taxpayer, and so will only lead to jobs for a fraction of the jobless youth.

The best way to tackle youth unemployment in a slump is to invest in people’s skills. Investment in skills does two helpful things: it removes some young people from the labour market, making it easier for others to get jobs, and it improves the stock of skills the economy can draw on once demand recovers, which can help boost growth.

Participation rates in education and training among 18 to 24 year olds are low in France and the UK is around 40 per cent, compared to 53 to 60 per cent in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Finland. The latter countries have much lower levels of youth unemployment than the European average.

This is why innovative schemes such as this, which ties in training and overseas work experience, are such important when trying to tackle such a massive problem as youth unemployment, which is blighting the lives of people in both France and Wales.

We are really looking forward to working through these types of schemes with other countries – the more we work together, the more we will learn, and the more we learn, the better off we will all be.

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