The Challenges of The New Deal – 18 to 24 Element

The Government, before they were elected, stated clearly that one of their flagships was The New Deal (ND) for young people and long-term unemployed people. Now they are elected, the initiative is very live and real. The New Deal will have major implications for these individuals but also for the partners who will be needed to make it a success and colleges of further education are most certainly going to be a major player in the delivery of this initiative.

So what is The New Deal? The basic proposals are as follows:

New Deal:

  • will help young people aged 18-24 who are unemployed for six months or more and receiving Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) into work and to improve their long term employability.
  • will provide opportunities for work, education, training and improvement of basic skills. It will improve employability by providing work with an employer in the voluntary sector or within the environment task group.
  • will also help job seekers aged 25 and over and unemployed for two years or more by encouraging employers to recruit these people for which they will be paid a subsidy. Its ultimate success will depend critically on effective partnerships which bring together knowledge, energy and initiatives currently being operated by these partners
  • offers something for all involved

  • for unemployed people
    ~ new hope and new responsibilities.

  • for business
    ~ the opportunity to discover the benefits available from young and unemployed people whose abilities have been overlooked’

  • for the country
    ~ the chance to put to use skills of a ‘lost generation’ of young and long termunemployed people, cutting the costs of social and economic failure.

So, what are the options? The following options for 18-24 year olds will all include education or training and will be preceded by intensive help from a personal adviser who will support the young person in their choice of options. This is known generically as ‘the gateway’.

  • The employment option – In return for offering young people a job with training, employers will be given £60.00 per week subsidy for up to six months. Money will be available towards the cost of training for accredited qualifications in the form of day release or equivalent.
  • Voluntary sector option – Will offer experience of work with training within the voluntary sector for six months. Training will be towards accredited qualifications in the form of day release or equivalent.
  • Environmental option – Will offer six months’ experience of work on tasks designed to improve the environment. Training will be towards accredited qualifications in the form of day release or equivalent.
  • Full-time education/training. This is primarily aimed at young people without NVQ2 level or equivalent qualifications. The length of time on the option may be anything up to one year.

For it to succeed many key questions need to be asked and comprehensively answered :

  • What is the purpose of the New Deal?
  • What is the population and characteristics of the individuals targetted?
  • What is the relationship of the New Deal with existing programmes?
  • What is the inter-relationship between the Gateway and the Options, particularly in regard to the personal adviser and the guidance processes?
  • What will the quality assurance system be?
  • How far in the qualifications system will people be able to progress?
  • How will the partnerships operate?

Social or economic?

So, is The New Deal a social or economic initiative? This is a very fundamental question. There are many existing initiatives and these are currently realising different degrees of success and it is absolutely essential that The New Deal realises the synergies with these rather than weakening them by engendering confusion and/or competition. Effective marketing is essential to make The New Deal clear and understandable to the individuals to which it is being targeted. They have to be convinced of the benefits of entering any one of the options that will be provided.

Another key question is why so many young people have not engaged with the existing programmes and that there is still a significant residue of people who appear to be totally disaffected from them and in many cases from society. This raises some fundamental questions: Are they so alienated from society, possibly because of personal histories and circumstance, that any initiative will not convince them? We have witnessed, over the past few years, massive transformations in society and employment practices . We are more aware these days that the social mix is far more complex and any new approach must recognise and support many individuals socially as well as educationally. The country does have a social responsibility to many of these people and the non-existence of a fifth option will surely present problems for those individuals who for understandable reasons cannot benefit from any of the options being made available within the New Deal.

Other factors.

Other factors figure in this important question. People do earn money outside formal structures through the operation of the alternative economies and many feel a reasonable living can be made in such a way without coming into contact with the benefit’s system.. How will The New Deal and other regulatory systems cope with these individuals? This has to be carefully managed. In addition the loss of benefit could be catastrophic to many people who for no fault of their own cannot engage with any of the options.

At present the local consultation conferences have just finished with delivery partners and employers on seeking how best to deliver New Deal and a whole series of important and fundamental issues have been precipitated from these conferences. Many asked whether it is just a social initiative or will the framework tackle both the long-term economic and social issues associated with these target populations. Hopefully the detail will precisely articulate the purpose of the initiative, particularly in regard to its social intentions and recognise and respect fully the complex nature of these individuals and their particular circumstances.

It is absolutely essential that the synergies with the existing programmes are realised and capitalised on. Initiatives such as Modern Apprenticeship, Adult Programme, Youth Training, National Traineeships and a whole range of Employment Service programmes such as Jobs Clubs, Workwise, and Restart do articulate with the New Deal options and offer real opportunities for progression and transition for the individuals. A comprehensive and coherent set of frameworks must be developed which maximise the achievements of these programmes, along with those that are likely from the New Deal options. A number of these existing programmes will need to be refined and reconfigured to achieve that essential set of ingredients of consistency, coherence, progression/transition opportunities.

The manner in which one capitalises on the existing experience and skills of staff in the various partners, particularly within the processes associated with the gateway is pivotal to its ultimate success. That initial stage is fundamental. The initial and continuing role of guidance is essential to the ultimate success of any framework which is attempting to encourage people to engage in education and training and future employment. This is particularly important for groups of people targeted by the New Deal. The ambitions of the New Deal are immense and it is important that the personal advisers are fully supported in the daunting challenges that will confront them.

Immediate questions.

Are there sufficient highly qualified and experienced staff across all the partners to cope with the new demands and challenges brought about by the gateway processes?

How will they be co-ordinated to guarantee consistency of approach in the maintenance of quality of their advice and guidance? The quality assurance issues are also of crucial importance, not only at the gateway stage but across and throughout the options. Will the New Deal create yet another inspection/ assessment team? Many of the partners are already required to respond to a multitude of external quality assurance interventions such as from the FEFC, awarding bodies and TECs and teams of inspectors/assessors/ verifiers visit colleges and other providers already to a significant degree. Convergence of these very different quality assurance systems is now occurring and increasingly self-assessment approaches are being adopted by many of these institututions, for example Ofsted, FEFC, HEFCE, TECs, awarding bodies. The TEC National Council is just about to appoint its own inspection team, so where will the New Deal fit in within this quality assurance landscape? Whatever quality assurance system is applied it must embrace guidance and advice at the gateway stage as well as overseeing the delivery and awarding of qualifications both within providers and on work-based activities. Will the quality assessment be assimilated into the existing systems or will a totally new quality assurance regime be established to make certain that the New Deal is delivering value for money as well as quality of provision? Education and training providers fully accept the need for accountability and quality maintenance and improvement but are already exposed to unacceptable levels of inspection/audit activity, much of which is replicative and as such costly in resources.

The detail – and so often the devil is in the detail – must be clear and precise in the operation of any new quality assurance system introduced by the New Deal. Existing systems of quality assurance are already attempting to realise more efficient and cost-effective approaches to quality assessment. So let us hope New Deal does not weaken this worthy endeavour.

Qualifications issue.

The qualifications issue is also an important one. It is essential that progression opportunities to higher level awards are available. Increasingly employers want high skill/knowledge bases for their employees. Recent reports, for example from Reed Personnel Services, have highlighted massive skill gaps at higher levels, that is NVQ3, in its employees or potential employees. The New Deal population must experience a high quality option in order for past frustrations and low expectations and aspirations to be attenuated and motivate them to progress onto higher levels of achievement. New Deal must link with programmes which allow smooth progression and transition after the options finish for the individuals – what we do not want is a ‘revolving door’ which ejects them. Clarity is needed between the terms ‘employment’ and ‘employability’. Dead end, lowly paid jobs with low skills will surely not be a characteristic of the New Deal. What is needed is a set of opportunities which facilitates and offers potential for the pursuit of reasonably paid employment in high skill/ knowledge areas. It is that potential and subsequent employment that employability is surely about.

Partnerships.

One of the key factors to the success of the New Deal is the effectiveness of the working together of the partners. There must be an open set of operating relationships conducted in a non-competitive fashion. Trust is paramount between the partners, even though this Government is still advocating the operation of the free market in the New Deal. Each of the partners will face significant challenges. For example, voluntary service organisations which may be under-resourced with few members of staff will require a great deal of support by the Government and other partners to respond effectively to the demands that will be placed upon them. Will the environmental tasks be truly of lasting value to the environment and to the individuals or will it just be graffiti removal and digging out redundant canals? Value addedness needs to be given not only to the tasks and their effect on the environment but also to the individual. Too often in the past such initiatives have been short term and have achieved nothing in the long term, other than frustration and raised expectations that were quickly violated.

The challenge.

Can colleges and TECs rise to the challenge of New Deal when their budgets have been successively cut over the past few years?

Again, the initiative must broadcast stability and permanence so that providers can reinvest in resources both physical and human, to respond effectively to the demands of the New Deal and its client group.

The New Deal is a very important. It must succeed and all the partners are keen for it to succeed, but they do need a clear set of details that attach to the framework quickly.

References:

“Design of the New Deal for 18-24 year olds”. jointly published by DfEE, Welsh Office and The Scottish office, distributed by the Regional Employment Services Department. (Oct.1997).

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