Youth Employment Service (Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th January 1966.

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Photo of Dr Wyndham Davies Dr Wyndham Davies , Birmingham, Perry Barr 12:00 am, 25th January 1966

We are grateful for the hard work which was done by Lady Albemarle and her Committee, though this does not prevent us from expressing some disappointment about the Report or from pointing to the general lack of bite, as it has been described, particularly by those who are intimately concerned with the service. While we also congratulate the Minister of Labour on his speech today, I detected a certain lack of a sense of urgency in his remarks and hope that he will place more emphasis on some of the points I shall discuss.

I hope that because the Minister of State for Education and Science has been the only representative on the Front Bench opposite for most of the afternoon, he will pass on to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour the views which have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the place of the appointed factory doctor in the Service and the urgent need to write some of these ideas into the structure of the appointed factory doctor service which, we hope, will shortly be forthcoming from the Ministry.

On 5th February last year this subject under discussion today was dealt with in depth by many of my hon. Friends and I and a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite and I do not propose to go over all the arguments I used in a fairly long speech on that occasion. However, certain matters need reiterating and I wish to particularly emphasise the economic value of the Youth Employment Service to the country. For example, the Albemarle Report stated, in paragraph 76: … anything contributing to the earlier and more successful adjustment of young people to working life should be of value not only to young workers themselves but also to employers and to the community on both economic and social grounds. This is so important that I took the liberty of asking a senior youth employment officer in my constituency to give me a few examples of how the Service is of help. The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) asked what was being done for the mentally handicapped and implied that not enough was being done. I assure her that in those areas where the Service is being run efficiently, such as in Birmingham, much is being done.

One example I was given concerns a severely educationally subnormal girl—so low in her intelligence that the tests gave no reliable indication of her intelligence quotient. However, she was educated at a special residential school, although naturally her family, which is of superior mental ability, was caused considerable problems. By a great deal of effort, the Service found her a simple packing job and today, two years later, she is not only happy in her job but is proud of being able to earn her own keep. This is the type of service which needs to be expanded more widely.

Another example is of a schoolgirl with multiple handicaps, being profoundly deaf, partially sighted, with a defect of the spine and suffering from skin trouble. Academically she was in the bottom 15 per cent. of her class. After four months effort and innumberable telephone calls and visits by the youth employment officer, she was placed with a sympathetic employer and is today happy in her work.

There is then the case where the youth employment officer acts as guide, philosopher and friend. A grammar school boy was sent by the head of his school to see the youth employment officer outside normal routine. The boy was due to begin his second year in the sixth form but was thinking of leaving school. On the advice given to him by the youth employment officer the boy returned to school, took his A-levels and is now training to be a teacher. If it had not been for the high standard of training and understanding of that youth officer that boy might have been lost to the teaching profession.

Another example concerns a technical schoolboy who was referred to the youth employment officer by his headmaster but who, although he had four O-levels and was likely to get three more in the November examinations, felt compelled to leave school because of a financial crisis at home. He thought of going to a building site to make some quick money while trying to study for his A-levels. Once again, the youth employment officer was able to interview the lad and see that he got some help so that he could continue with the subjects which he found most interesting, which were biology and chemistry. That boy is now working in the environmental health sphere.

Then we have the problem of the misfit, such as the boy at a non-selective secondary school who wanted to go into painting and decorating but who was then found to have heart trouble. This is an example of where the appointed factory doctor, by attending regular sessions, might assist the youth employment officer. In this case, on medical advice, the boy was found much more suitable work than climbing up high ladders and performing the hard work required of a painter's mate.

I could give many more examples of youngster; who have been unsettled by unsatisfactory school careers and who not only need the welfare activities suggested by some hon. Members but who also need all the depth of skill and training that can be obtained from every possible source.

My right hon. Friend questioned the Minister on certain aspects of Dr. Herford's scheme at Slough. This was a 'most valuable experiment in the cooperation of the Youth Employment Service with the medical service and the educational service, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Sir A. Meyer) has an opportunity later to develop that point. As a doctor, I understand the suggestion is, broadly, that the Youth Employment Service should call young people forward for a medical examination and take the opportunity when they attend of conducting a review of their progress at work. The advantages of such a procedure would be that young people would be under an obligation to attend, and the combination of a general progress review with a medical progress review would lead to an early identification of problems. It is important that a scheme on these lines should not only be running experimentally but should be actively encouraged.

The problem of the status of the Youth Employment Service can be tied up with something that the Minister carefully skipped over—the whole problem of salaries and prospects. Sufficient has not been put into the Report itself on that aspect. The key to quality in any social service is the calibre of its people. This is true of the Youth Employment Service in particular, because this debate has so far shown that hon. Members on both sides would give to the youth employment officer all sorts of jobs requiring a knowledge of human nature, of psychology, of education, of job prospects, and so on.

If we are to get the type of men to fill these posts, we have to pay them properly and see that they have a proper career structure. This statement has been made time and again by employers' organisations and by the Trades Union Congress, and I regret that there is no serious mention of increase of salary and of status in this Report, nor did the Minister touch on the subject at all. I hope that the Government spokesman will later be able to tell us why this problem of pay and prospects has not been considered further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Kilfedder) has referred, as have one or two other hon. Gentlemen, to a possible change in central control—the removal of the Youth Employment Service from the Ministry of Labour to the Ministry of Education. I have met a number of enthusiasts on this subject and find very divided opinion. Some of them are enthusiastic to move the Service to the educational side because they feel that they will then have an opportunity of developing the Service as they would like to see it developed under the care of the educationists. Against that are the much shrewder people who know that between 1910 and 1948 too much time was spent on sterile arguments about the merits and demerits of the different types of control, and about whether control should be exercised by local education authorities or the Ministry of Labour, and so on.

It is important to stop this controversy now; and to accept the fact that many local education authorities are handling this service extremely well in combination with the Ministry of Labour. Let us leave things alone for a while in order to see what a good job the Ministry of Labour can make of this Service now that it has had the stimulus of two days of debate in this House and the hard work of the Albemarle Working Party.

I believe in the value of the Youth Employment Service external to but cooperating closely with the schools. The reasons for this view are touched on in paragraph 22 of the Report, to which I would draw attention. We should also bear in mind paragraph 21, where the rather unfortunate statement is made by, it seems, a schoolmasters' organisation: The Careers Master is in fact an amateur on careers but professional on boys, the Y.E.O. vice versa. That statement seems to indicate that the youth employment officer should be an amateur at looking after boys—and, presumably, girls. This view is quite wrong, and I am sorry that the Albemarle Working Party repeats it, and does not seem to have qualified it at all.

I do not think that the Trades Union Congress has been exactly forthcoming in putting forward brilliant suggestions. We know, as is stated in paragraph 32: The T.U.C. has long been concerned about the problems affecting young people in the tranisition from school to working life. … They are compelled to question, however, the Advisory Council's recommendation even in the tentative and carefully qualified form in which it is advanced. … They are opposed in principle to any"— and I emphasise the word "any"— form of employment of children of school age. One can understand what was in the minds of the members of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, as veteran trade unionists, but if many children are to avoid going into the wrong sort of occupation for their own aptitudes they must have some form of work experience. This will be particularly true when the school-leaving age is raised to 16.

The T.U.C. should be asked to think again, and join with the Ministry of Labour considering whether this work experience can be put on a basis satisfactory to trade unionists in order to remove their fears, because time and again in my experience in industrial medicine I have found a great need for safety training before a youngster enters his factory environment or whatever his work environment is to be.

The Ministry will know that again and again it happens that a youngster arrives to work on his first day and within his first hours of work he has a serious injury—he loses a finger, or he may lose an eye. We know that this occurs. The statistics of these accidents to young people do not yet exist in the Ministry but I believe that figures are now being collected there. It is most important that safety training should be started before the youngster arrives at his job. That can be done only by some method of combining work experience with safety training and, possibly, industrial health training, before the boy goes to his first job.

Time does not permit me to mention the many other points I should like to deal with, so I will only say that the country's manpower needs are very important at the moment, and are likely, for obvious reasons, to be increasingly important in the coming years. We should be asking ourselves today not "Does this country want a career advisory service developed along the lines of the Albermarle Report?", but "Can the country afford to do without a trained, well-staffed, comprehensive Youth Employment Service, by whatever name it is called?". Let us hope for legislation soon in the scheme of priorities of the present Government.