Monday, 13 June 2011

What future for young people?

A lack of jobs, University tuition fee increases and the ending of the Educational Maintenance Allowance are serious concerns for young people. So say teenagers attending a major skills event in Bolton.

SKILLS North West attracted 8,000 young people over its two days. With training providers, colleges, employers, careers advice agencies and Universities all mounting exhibitions, and providing interactive learning opportunities, there was a chance for 14-19 year olds to explore future career paths. 

That’s vital in a period when youth unemployment has hit a record national high of over 20%. All the more interesting therefore that some employers, said event organiser Nina Hurst Jones, had stayed away “for fear of being seen recruiting when they are making large redundancies.”

One stall with a regular stream of visitors was that of Babcock International. It’s a training provider for 19,000 youngsters on workplace apprenticeships, mainly in hospitality, public service and social and child-care.  According to Loraine Prendegast they’ve seen an increase in the “numbers considering earning while learning.”

Seventeen-year-old Oli Bond would be delighted to do so. He’s a public services student at Salford College who has applied unsuccessfully for many jobs. Whilst this doesn’t appear to have got him down, as “you have to get on with life’ he said smiling, that’s not the case for all his friends as “some are demoralised, feel there’s not much to be gained from seeking work, do very little and rely on their parents for money.”

Young people not in education, employment or training, or NEET’s for short, account for around one fifth of youth unemployment. Meanwhile around a quarter of young people aged 16 to 24 seeking work have been unable to find any for over a year. Such figures appear unlikely to fall shortly, especially as the public sector cuts that are in the offing have not yet hit home.

These include the coalition government’s removal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance. [EMA] Labour introduced this in 2003 over concerns that fewer young people aged 16 were staying on at school or college. The scheme, which gives teenagers £30 while they study A-levels or vocational qualifications, is now in its final year in England, although in Scotland and Wales it continues courtesy of support from the Parliament’s there.

Manchester College media students Bhekin Ngwbnya and James Haskew will both stop receiving EMA when the second year of their course starts in September. It will mean Bhekin will now have to abandon the bus and walk each day to college whilst also finding a job. According to Science student Mohamed Sheikh, aged 19, there are a good number around “although pay rates rarely rise above the minimum wage.”

Already working in two jobs, news that University tuition fees would increase considerably made Mohamed consider abandoning plans to go to University only for “family and friends to persuade me that I should go on the understanding that if necessary they will assist financially.”

Brought here from Somalia by his father in 1999 he worries others from his community won’t be able to enjoy such support from their loved ones. As a result he’s convinced most won’t go to University knowing that they will leave with large debts to repay.

Rita Stevenson, aged 18 from Chester has already decided she doesn’t want to be in such a position. The sports student is now actively seeking an apprenticeship “ as going to University doesn’t guarantee you a job, so you could be left owing money for a long time.”  Along with her friends Yasmin Bridges and Ceara Doyle she’s upset at “being denied an opportunity that others before me have enjoyed.” Not that any of them, or the other dozen I spoke to, felt there was “much point in getting involved in protests as the government isn’t going to change its mind.” It certainly won’t however if they don’t! 

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