I have been saying for some time in the House of Commons that the Government needs to wake up to the realities of the recession when it comes to employment policy. Many current policies are designed for the recent world of jobs’ growth and plenty, not the current reality of rising unemployment and sparse vacancies.
A key to this is to realise that short-term job losses in the recession will hasten the long-term process outlined in the Leitch Report by which unskilled jobs are lost. We need to use the recession to ensure that our workers are better trained and skilled, particularly in the new business areas which will expand, such as new green businesses.
Many newly unemployed workers are very employable and will be back into work quickly, but there are others who have not found job search difficult in the past, who will struggle, because their skill levels are too low in the new environment. Jobcentre Plus and the Learning and Skills Council need to integrate their activities as never before.
A particular problem will be how to keep newly-learned skills fresh while searching for work. Practising the skills is important. The government like to claim that the Conservative governments of the 1980s “did nothing” about unemployment. Whilst not all the employment initiatives were successful, it was a period when many new ideas were tried and it was the effective start of active Labour Market measures. Some schemes were simply overwhelmed by the numbers involved in the recession of the early 1980s and quality suffered, but many of the ideas tried at that time have been built on and improved.
I was therefore pleased to see that the Association of Learning Providers is putting forward a “new proposal to re-design a successful initiative utilised in a previous recession, update it and indeed improve and develop it to a significantly higher level of effectiveness.”
They are referring to the Community Programme, which they describe as “so successful in the early ’80s”. The programme created tens (probably hundreds) of thousands of real jobs, predominantly in the voluntary sector, undertaking tasks of general community benefit. Typical projects involved extensive work for the National Trust and other ‘environmental’ bodies, the development of previously unusable sites and buildings, gardening and domestic security installations for older people, etc.
They believe the availability of high quality, employer designed Apprenticeship training frameworks gives the opportunity to offer high quality, relevant vocational skills for unemployed adults, linked to programmes of general community benefit. This “upskills a large body of potential workers, ready for instant availability for employers when the economy picks up.”
I particularly like the idea that green business and energy saving skills, with their socially desirable benefits, could be taught and practised and this would be a direct investment into future profitable ‘green enterprises’.
I hope the Government will look at this innovative idea, even though it is a new take on a successful Conservative employment programme of the 1980s.