THE STORY OF WOLVERHAMPTON'S WORK EXPERIENCE PROGRAMME
- 01:01 pm, Wed 28th Nov 2012
The story of Wolverhampton’s Work Experience Programme
In February of this year I launched a work experience programme for unemployed young people in my constituency. Wolverhampton South East is among the top 20 constituencies in the UK for unemployment. There are around 4,600 unemployed people in my constituency, of whom 1,500 are under 25.
To organise the programme I wrote to local employers in both public and private sectors asking them to offer places of 6-8 weeks. The Black Country Chamber of Commerce also wrote to their members. We had responses from around 40 employers offering around 200 places in total. We then put these together into a booklet which, with sponsorship from my trade union, Community, we mailed to every household in the constituency which had residents aged 18-24. Employers were also asked to make sure every young person who took part had an assessment and a reference at the end of the placement.
The booklet was important because too often good work experience is reliant on having the right connections and the social networks that give access to the best placements. But internships in “Daddy’s law firm” are not available to my constituents. I wanted to bring the opportunity of work experience to young people who normally didn’t get the chance. That meant not relying on places no one knew about in firms they’d never heard of, or depending on people digging around on the Job centre’s website (if they have easy access to a computer which many of my constituents don’t) but printing a list of locally available opportunities and posting it directly to people with clear advice on how to apply. Participation in the programme from the young person’s point of view was voluntary.
I have just had the results of the programme from Job Centre Plus. In total, 157 places were taken up and of those 45 young people got jobs (including jobs with employers other than their work experience host) – a success rate of 29%. This compares with a success rate of 19% for the Job Centre’s own schemes in the city.
Why the difference in success rates? I believe it is because we made the barriers to entry as low as possible and took the opportunities to people who don’t normally get the chance. By actively signing up local employers in sectors as diverse as healthcare, housing, music venues and manufacturing and posting them directly to young people we reached young people who are often excluded from internships and other such schemes.
One employer, Angel Springs who supply water coolers to workplaces, has taken on several new staff through the scheme. Their commercial manager, Rachel Jones said, “Angel Springs have employed a number of staff through the local Work Placement Scheme initiated by Pat McFadden MP. Over the last year I have found this to be a very useful and rewarding way of recruiting. Staff that I have employed through the scheme would generally be candidates that I would not have normally considered taking on in the past just from looking at their CV. I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of young people who are really just looking for an opportunity and are willing to work hard to get there. They just need to be given a chance.”
If Rachel is right this was not just about helping 45 unemployed young people find work. It was helping young people find work who might not normally have been successful or come through the usual recruitment routes.
Work experience alone won’t cure the chronic youth unemployment problem facing the country. That requires much bigger policy responses and the recent report on the Future Jobs Fund shows how wrong the Government has been to ditch programmes that were working. But the Wolverhampton experience shows that, properly organised with buy in from local employers and communicated directly to young people, it can make a difference. 45 jobs is a difference worth having.
One final thing. I organised the scheme in Wolverhampton but I didn’t have the original idea. That came from my colleague Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden. I’d like to thank Siobhain for doing this programme first and for sharing her experience. There are 45 young people in Wolverhampton who don’t know her but who are in work partly thanks to her example.