Youth unemployment has risen sharply by 78,000 to 973,000.
I thought of this shocking figure as I watched a teenage girl sign on for the first time at Job Centre Plus. She was 18 and had not been in employment, education or training for the past two years. It was clear she didn’t know what happened at Job Centre Plus.
She silently chewed her gum, as if faced with detention, so had captured the mood of the place and her defiance was fitting when told she mustn’t fail to complete her Looking for Work booklet adequately. Nevertheless, she was unprepared.
She was asked what she liked to do. She looked up, coyly, and replied, “Baking.” After some thought she added, “I think I’d enjoy working in a shop.”
The adviser wondered if she need to give her options more thought: perhaps she could go to college. There was no mention of University.
The girl looked down, texting sullenly, no doubt writing an insult about the adviser to a friend. The adviser sighed, fighting the urge to roll her eyes.
Soon the girl’s blank expression was replaced with wide-eyed confusion when the adviser told her of apprenticeships in cookery that she could do for six months, working full time and earning benefits of £104 a week. It seemed she was supposed to be excited at the prospect of sweating for 40 hours a week for minimum wage.
“You gain NVQs and learn the skills of cookery, including baking, and you will get more money than you do on Jobseekers’ Allowance and it could lead to a job.” The adviser was as enthusiastic as she could be.
The girl was silent. She was taking in the information. Grudgingly. She dropped her phone into her lap and watched, slack-jawed, as the adviser pulled up information on her computer screen.
“If you were willing to travel further,” the adviser continued. “You can go to a Jobs Fair tomorrow and look at what retail work is on offer.” With this she printed off reams of flyers for apprenticeships and job fairs.
“You must dress professionally when you arrive,” the adviser told her. “This way employers will know that you can dress appropriately for work.”
This wasn’t explained further and I wonder if the girl, like me, had thought it odd considering the adviser was dressed in a flowing skirt, open-toed sandals and a T-shirt which, after all, wouldn’t be appropriate everywhere.
The experience made me question our attitude to youth unemployment. This girl was out of her depth. She was silent, verging on sullen, embarrassed and defiant, as most teenagers are. She needed individual help, genuine discussion and advice, but instead was simply given a different version of the annoying bureaucracy I’ve experienced.
Information was thrown at her and instructions handed out before she had time to take it in. It was like watching a confused toddler be told, “Grow up! Get a job!”
More than a quarter of apprentices drop out of the government’s apprenticeship scheme and, with information provided in this way, that is hardly a surprise.
It was reported earlier this year that, “employers said there were still too many young people starting the scheme only to change their minds half way through because they were no longer interested”.
It makes sense. An interest in baking didn’t mean this young girl had an urge to learn all she could and become a contestant on the Great British Bake-Off. She was being urged to do the first thing the adviser thought of so she was no longer claiming benefits.
Job Centre Plus will have to change its posters soon: “The job you want, the help you need” doesn’t describe the experience.
“The box is ticked, you’re no longer an unemployment statistic,” would be more appropriate.
More stats from Office for National Statistics:
Number of unemployed people in UK rose by 80,000 to 2.51 million in the three months to July
This is the largest increase in nearly two years
The jobless rate now stands at 7.9%
The total number claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance rose by 20, 300 in August to 1.58 million