Youth Employment and Training

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th March 1976.

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12.27 a.m.

Photo of Mr James Craigen Mr James Craigen , Glasgow Maryhill

The House has debated the general employment situation on two occasions recently. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity of raising the topic of the employment and training of young people because I think that there are certain trends in the employment situation which have very serious implications for youth employment in the years ahead. No one can be happy with the present level of unemployment in the 16 to 24 age category, but, looking ahead, it seems to me that there is likely to be a further shrinking in job opportunities available to people in this age group.

I think the Minister himself has recently been involved in discussions with other member Governments of the OECD, and they have been aware that unemployment among young people is rising at a higher rate than unemployment among adult workers. Moreover, he will know that in the National Youth Employment Council's Report "Unqualified, Untrained, Unemployed", which came out a year or two ago, mention was made of the reduction in the number of apprenticeships and below-craft level employment during the decade 1961–71 which amounted to about 390,000 jobs.

I know that more young people are staying on for further and full-time education, but the fact remains that, looking at birth rate predictions over the next five years or so, we shall be faced with a steady increase in the number of 16 to 17 year-olds coming on to the labour market.

I want to raise the general question of the apprenticeship system. There are those who feel "We have seen it all before", I do not believe that we are experiencing a repeat of the 1920s to 1930s situation, when there was a premium on employing young people because they were reckoned to be a cheap form of labour. On the contrary, the problem in the 1970s is that young people starting apprenticeships at 16 do so at 45 per cent. or 50 per cent. of the adult rate for the job. Allowing for day or block release facilities, the cost of employing a young person is sometimes almost as high as the cost of employing a qualified journeyman.

Some rather frustrated trade union officials have recently remarked on the difficulty they have with members fighting for the right of redundancy payments and not the right to work when faced with the threat of losing a job. That is not a problem with young people. Their problem is one of making the right start.

The Minister will appreciate the expectations of young people when they leave school and their parents' desire for them to have a satisfying career in industry, commerce or service employment. The number of young people entering apprenticeships has always been particularly high in this country. In 1974, the latest date for which figures are available, 43 per cent. of boys leaving school began apprenticeships. In Scotland the figure was even higher at 53 per cent. On Clyde-side the figure has always been higher because of the nature of the industries in the area.

Ten years ago, the Industry Training Act introduced machinery to ensure an adequate supply of properly trained men ensure the quality of training and to distribute more evenly the cost of training. Industrial training and manpower services have been completely reorganised with the introduction of the Manpower Services Commission and its two offshoots, the Employment Services Agency and the Training Services Agency. It seems to me that the State will have to become more involved than before in the apprenticeship system. In the past the employers and trade unions have been left to sort out the problems surrounding the employment of young people.

Many of us welcomed the introduction of the Engineering Industry Training Board and the Construction Industry Training Board special award schemes for young apprentices. But the number of young people who have applied for awards and who have been turned away is considerable. Many of those young people had adequate qualifications. It was simply the fact that there were not enough training awards available.

I suggest that there is a special problem facing many small firms throughout the country. At the moment they cannot or will not take on young people as apprentices, yet they probably consider that business prospects will pick up in a year or two. In the meantime, we shall have an increase in the problems created by shortages of skilled labour in certain areas.

The industry training boards, through the Training Services Agency, could perform a valuable role by extending the concept of the training awards scheme. I go further and suggest that it ought to be responsible for the apprentice throughout his or her apprenticeship and that the employer's role should be largely one of fostering the apprentice during his or her period in the firm. This would have the advantage of providing more apprenticeships opportunities than would be the case if we continued to leave matters to the recruitment policies of individual companies.

Tomorrow and Wednesday we shall be debating the White Paper on Public Expenditure. One of the central aims of the White Paper is stated to be that of improving the manufacturing performance of the United Kingdom. It seems that the flow of skilled labour to the right places at the right time will be crucial to the success of that objective. In a previous debate on employment I expressed the view that the Department of Employment should take a firm hand in manpower planning and in the allocation of financial resources. If the opportunities in manufacturing employment are decreasing, as they have been over the past decade, it follows that the job opportunities available to young people will increasingly be in the white collar sector, whether in public enterprise or in some kind of service employment.

Schemes such as the school leavers' subsidy have helped. Incidentally, I hope that the Minister will say that the operation of this subsidy could be made a little more flexible, because there were some young people who left school before last summer who might be assisted by this scheme if it were not tied to the summer and Christmas leaving dates.

A substantial proportion of the unemployed is made up of those who worked in the construction industry. Further measures to increase the flow of work in this sector—although I know that this does not lie within the ministerial responsibility of my hon. Friend—could do a great deal to ease the employment situation.

I turn finally to two attempts which the Government have been making in the past year or two to deal with what seemed to be short-term problems. The first attempt has been job creation. The Job Creation Scheme was seen as a short-term arrangement, although I think it will be with us for a long time to come. We borrowed it from the Canadian Local Initiative programme, and it seems that it will form a fairly permanent part of our employment situation.

The difficulty that often arises is finding suitable sponsors. Local authorities and other public agencies often promote schemes, but there are voluntary bodies which do not know how to handle the Job Creation Scheme. I suggest that the scheme should be handled by a Job Creation Agency, the officials being assisted by people who are qualified to assist and sponsor projects centrally. I do not want to see a lot of people employed at the top when the real urgency is to get more young people into employment, albeit employment of a temporary character. It seems that there would be some value in changing the function of the Job Creation Scheme to make it a Job Creation Agency.

The Community Industry Scheme operates on a smaller scale, but I believe it performs a valuable rôle in assisting many young people who would otherwise have had great difficulty in finding employment. I am led to believe that there are placing difficulties arising for girls after they have finished their spell of employment under the scheme. The girls are involved in home visits, lunch clubs, or some type of domestic employment. Very often the boys get the opportunity to exercise skills in, for example, joinery, painting or brick work. The time spent on such skills is not always recognised in subsequent employment, unlike the old pre-apprenticeship scheme.

I hope that the Minister will raise this matter through the TUC and with the individual trade unions. Some form of assessment should be introduced by the Training Services Agency so that recognition is given to the period spent by young people under the Community Industry Scheme or the Job Creation Scheme.

I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic in the foreseeable future towards representations from the Strathclyde Regional Education Authority for an increase in the number of places in Strathclyde. He will realise that one of the important aspects of community industry has been the contact between the trainers and the students. It seems that one of the problems emerging from apprenticeships is the lack of interest shown in the young people and their employment and training. This may be an admission of old age, but I think that in times past journeymen often showed much more interest in the training and work of apprentices than is now the case.

I have referred to some of the problems facing the unemployed school leaver. The fact remains that the great majority of young people find employment when they leave school. In recent years we have seen an increase in the number of bodies which have responsibility for counselling them as to the type of work that they might be best fitted to undertake. The result has sometimes been more people chasing around helping young people to find suitable jobs, or jobs that they might be best qualified to do, than there are jobs available.

I have no doubt that if this country were fighting a war we should have the kind of manpower policies required, that we would be employing everyone in the right place and at the right time and ensuring proper training. I have suggested that the United Kingdom at present is in an economic war situation where it will be of the utmost importance to ensure that the young people coming out of our schools and colleges are able to obtain employment of the right kind and are, through the various agencies, encouraged to take the proper kind of training.

12.46 a.m.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

This subject is one well worth considering at any hour and it concerns us very much. As my hon. Friend rightly said, there is a great deal of concern about the un-precedently high level of unemployment among young people, not only here but in other industrialised countries. It reached its peak after the school-leaving period last summer. It has gone down rapidly since, except for a jump in January, mainly due to school-leaving in Scotland, and the downward trend in unemployment among school-leavers continued in February. But the concern is justifiable and understandable, and we are worried about the corrosive effects which unemployment has, particularly among young people. I always think that if they are unemployed for a long time, we shall feel the effects not just for a year ahead but for many years in terms of social consequences.

We have taken a number of measures to deal with the situation, and Government action has been built around three main aims. The first is to obtain permanent employment for as many young people as possible, and to that end we have strengthened the front line staff of the careers services by up to 200 places, and introduced the recruitment subsidy for school-leavers and extended it in January to deal with the Christmas school-leavers. I note what my hon. Friend said about that. We are keeping it under review.

The second aim is to sustain the level of training opportunities, because these opportunities are, of course, at risk during a period of recession. Through the Manpower Services Commission and the Training Services Agency we have given special help for training at craft and semi-skilled levels to ensure the future supply of craftsmen through the apprenticeship system. To ensure their availability when the economy recovers is one of the major objects of special assistance. The amount of money given is impressive—£50 million announced in the Budget speech, another £10 million on 24th July last year, another £20 million on 24th September, and £55 million on 12th February, to take effect from August; £45 million of that will be devoted to additional first-year apprenticeship training and the remainder to other forms of training.

For the early months of 1976 in Scotland I have some figures. Under the training awards scheme, 453 people are already in training and another 270 places are to start early this year. For premium grants at craft level there are 354 places, with 428 for those other than craft level. There are 476 places in selected employer schemes and 264 in critical-skill grant schemes. That is a total of 2,245 under these schemes in Scotland.

For the longer term, we look to the industrial training boards to consider the issues, since they are best placed to assess their industries' needs, and it is not possible to take training out of the hands of industry. A lot of it has to continue to be done there. The Government and the MSC are also considering a wide range of comments on the TSA's discussion paper on vocational preparation for young people where they have been addressed to the sort of consideration mentioned by my hon. Friend.

The third aim, apart from training and strengthening the careers services and providing the recruitment subsidy, is to provide purposeful temporary work opportunities in the community. This has been achieved through the job creation programme operated by the Manpower Services Commission and by expanding Community Industry, which is financed by my Department. We now have 4,000 places in Community Industry.

My hon. Friend mentioned the difficulty about apprenticeships in small firms. I share his concern as somebody who represents a South London constituency with a good deal of unemployment where there are not many large firms left. Something can be done by group training schemes which can be fostered by the Industrial Training Board. We can make greater use of sponsoring, and we are anxious to ensure that opportunities become available for training, whether there are large firms or small firms in the area.

Much of the effort must be made in industry, or otherwise we shall undermine the amount of training which industry does for itself. However, I agree that we must maintain the effort. This country must have more brains, more talent and more status in industry and manufacturing. For far too long we have suffered from a snobbery about the jobs which young people go into. According to people who work in industry, if they had more talent and more status, this country would be better off. That is one reason why we are devoting so much more to industrial training.

My hon. Friend commented on the job creation project and suggested that the Manpower Services Commission should act as agent rather than simply as the supplier of the money. Job creation area teams are prepared to give whatever help they can to potential sponsors to design and mount projects. A project adviser is attached to each team and his function is to visit sponsors and to help them in whatever way he can. The Commission is reviewing the arrangements for promoting job creation and in areas of high unemployment which have not responded to the job creation programme will make special efforts to encourage projects.

I can give examples of the sort of private initiatives which have been taken. If my hon. Friend would like to discuss the question of the job creation project with somebody at the Commission, it should be possible to arrange it.

Photo of Mr James Craigen Mr James Craigen , Glasgow Maryhill

I have had discussions with the manager of the Glasgow office of the Job Creation Scheme, and I am familiar with many of the projects which have been undertaken, but the services of a job creation agency should be available to sponsors of projects in addition to what other public or voluntary bodies might do.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

I understand what my hon. Friend says, but one wishes to help projects which serve a local community. I shall convey my hon. Friend's remarks to the Manpower Services Commission. However, I find it hard to believe that there is not a private organisation, whether commercial or voluntary, which could be assisted to start a scheme. There must be many private organisations, such as the National Trust, Liverpool Cathedral—whether the Protestant or Catholic one I know not—the Royal British Legion, ICI, the National Society for Autistic Children, the Dundee Council of Churches, Community Service Volunteers and Oxfam, which, with help and encouragement, could be assisted to mount a scheme. Nevertheless, I do not reject what my hon. Friend says.

My hon. Friend suggested that the Job Creation Scheme should be permanent. The Manpower Services Commission is reviewing the labour market effects of the job creation programme to see which groups can be helped best. I was grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks about Community Industry. It has done a splendid job helping youngsters who find it difficult to obtain or retain employment.

My hon. Friend said that there was more difficulty in placing girls from CI than boys. One of the reasons we now have a Sex Discrimination Act is to deal with the narrow range of job opportunities for girls. Special efforts are made by careers officers to place girls in a wider range of jobs and the TSA has recently published a report identifying women as a priority group in terms of promoting training opportunities.

Girls from CI are generally more successful in obtaining semi-skilled industrial jobs than clerical jobs, but this is often caused by lack of formal educational qualifications. Interesting and encouraging experiments have taken place in the CI unit in Dunfermline where girls from CI can be accepted for nurse training with relevant CI experience substituted for entry qualifications.

My hon. Friend suggested that time with CI might count as a substitute for apprentice training, but it is very difficult to link these matters. Apprenticeships carry particular curricula and training courses. But we have tried to provide opportunities for people coming out of CI to go on shorter industrial courses under the TSA if they are aged under 19. About 12 per cent. of CI trainees go into apprenticeships, which is a very encouraging figure, bearing in mind the difficulties these young people have had before going into CI. There are also those under 19 who go into shorter junior TOPS courses and those over 19 who continue training in skillcentres.

There is still a great challenge in providing training for young people and we have to recognise that there is an inequity in this country between the amount—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Monday evening and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at three minutes to One o'clock.