Last week, we set out our ambition of creating a universal adult careers service incorporating the Learndirect and Nextstep advice services and working closely with Jobcentre Plus. Currently, every adult who needs free careers information and advice can seek it through the national Learndirect telephone and online service, through local Nextstep face-to-face advice services, or from their local college or training provider.
It is important that people have access to the sort of advice that they need. I ask my right hon. Friend to look in particular at liaison with the Department for Work and Pensions because it is at that point where, very often, people are not directed to the places to which they need to be directed. It is all very well having the services that he describes, but what really matters is ensuring that people know those services are there, and that they can access them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and there will be the closest possible co-operation between Jobcentre Plus and the new careers service. Indeed, in many cases they will be co-located. For too long, the problem has been that one Department has focused on getting people into work and the other on developing their skill levels. That produces a set of people who go into work and then come back out again in a few months, without having their skill levels raised. I hope that one of the effects of the collaboration between the two Departments will be that we meet individual skill needs as people move into work, therefore increasing their chances of staying in work and getting a better job.
Is the Minister aware of the contribution that science centres make in encouraging young adults to take up a career in science? Why is it that in the United States and France those are being pursued vigorously, while in Britain they have been subject to indifference and interdepartmental squabbling?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. After a few weeks in this job, my reflection is that we have quite a wealth of places throughout the country—local centres, national science museums, science centres and so on—that provide opportunities for young people to be exposed to science and have their interest stimulated. However, there is not necessarily the best guidance on where to find them, or co-ordination of the services that they offer. I suspect we could do a lot better by having a more coherent approach to promoting the good facilities that already exist.
My right hon. Friend will realise that the best career advice may encourage people to re-route their skills pattern. Does he not find it ironic, as I do, that we can pay someone to stop at home, but if they do more than 16 hours a week on a college course, they lose their benefit? Has he considered any approach to getting around this blockage, which prevents people from advancing their career by reskilling?
We must be careful that we do not undo all the rules of the benefit system, which are there for a reason. However, my hon. Friend will know from the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions last week, that increasingly the approach of Jobcentre Plus will be to build the acquisition of skills into the service we provide to people who are looking for work, so that there is a much clearer process of identifying skills needs and dealing with them.
My right hon. Friend wants to look at the current situation where someone can be out of work for six months before they get access to skills training. If someone has lost their job again because they did not have sufficient skills, there is clearly a case for getting them into adequate skills training straight away, not waiting for six months, as can happen at the moment.
Does the Secretary of State realise that, for an adult who has been out of work and out of the job market for some time, the step of accessing careers advice can be a very big one indeed? For some of those people, so-called leisure courses can be a vital step in boosting their confidence so that they can get back into the job market and take the step of accessing advice. Does he intend to continue with the current policy of axing many of those courses to target money elsewhere?
I recognise that there is a group of people for whom there can be an important stage of getting back into learning before they start a full-time vocational course. However, we have to be straightforward and say that we cannot justify all of the leisure provision that may exist at the moment on the basis that some people will find their way through. Although they have their own intrinsic value, the record shows that many people do not find them to be stepping stones to further qualifications. We have to look carefully at the system and the types of provision that are shown to provide a good stepping stone and progression into effective future learning. We must ensure that our resources prioritise those areas of activity.
Given that 30 years on from equal pay legislation, many young women, particularly those from vulnerable backgrounds, still gravitate towards training and job opportunities that tend to limit their future potential earning capacity—particularly when compared with their male counterparts—what steps will my right hon. Friend take, along with right hon. and hon. Friends from other Departments, to ensure that those who are likely to influence young women's choices encourage them to broaden the range of training and job opportunities that they consider, as has been suggested by the YWCA's "More than one rung" campaign?
I am aware of the work of the "More than one rung" campaign. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and members of the campaign to discuss in detail the way in which the changes that we are introducing can meet the needs that she identified. I hope that the changes to Jobcentre Plus, the development of the adult career service and the possibilities that local employer partnerships are opening up, whereby guaranteed routes are offered into work, will contribute to broadening the range of possibilities. However, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and members of the campaign to go through that in more detail.
The Government's imitation of our advocacy of a new careers service may be the sincerest form of flattery, but if the Secretary of State had examined our policy more closely, he would realise that we proposed a dedicated, all-age careers service. The House of Lords Select Committee that considered the matter recently described a
"failure of careers guidance services".
Young people do not get the information that they need about apprenticeships or basic information about local labour markets and career opportunities. Why does not the Secretary of State agree that an all-age career service, running alongside Connexions, is vital to tackling the growing army of hapless 16 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training?
I certainly agree that we need effective careers advice. The hon. Gentleman will find that I first set out my ideas for an adult careers service in a Fabian pamphlet about three years ago, so I will not allow him to claim authorship.
The range of issues that young people face, especially when they make their initial careers choices, are sufficiently different to make it better to have a separately organised careers service for younger people. However, we do not differ on the principle that, at every stage in somebody's life, there should be access to good careers advice that can meet individual, particular needs. I hope that we will not fall out over organisation when we clearly agree about the principle.