Boot camp for unemployed youths – the Marmite policy

Are three-week ‘boot camps’ the best way to help unemployed young people get a first step on the career ladder? Helen Barnard looks at the evidence.

Yesterday’s announcement of a three week ‘boot camp’ for all unemployed 18 to 20 year olds is a real marmite policy. Many love its ‘tough love’ message, while others hate the underlying assumption that young people are too busy watching daytime TV to get a job.

There is a real problem to tackle here. Whilst most young people quickly get a job when they leave education, the unemployment rate for 18 to 24 year olds is 14.4% and they are nearly three times more likely to be unemployed than over 25s. Although the unemployment rate is higher for young people, 59% of JSA claimants aged 18 to 24 claim for less than six months compared with 47% of those aged 25 to 49 and 43% of 50 to 64 year olds. The longer young people are unemployed, the worse it is for their futures – there is a ‘scarring effect’ which lasts for many years.  Addressing the barriers for those who are unemployed for longer is vital - around 146,000 16 to 24 year olds have been unemployed for more than 12 months, and around 65,000 for more than two years. 

Many young people claim for short periods of time and need little help to get work. Those who find it harder often have specific barriers, such as low skills and problems with housing or childcare. Giving better targeted support to this group makes more sense than sending all young JSA claimants on a generic course. The success of the new programme will also be affected by other policies. Removing Housing Benefit from 18 – 21 year olds may reduce their chance of moving away from home to find a job.  

The DWP’s own evaluation of a pilot programme of compulsory work experience for young people last year found that not everyone benefitted equally. Whilst some had positive experiences, there were real problems in the quality and diversity of the offer. This backs up wider evidence suggesting that it is the quality of the provision that should be the top priority. Rather than a general course, the Government should use the resources to have a better initial screening, identify the barriers facing those young people who will struggle to get work and provide high quality, tailored support.  Research by the Centre for Cities revealed that what works in one place may not work elsewhere. Investing more in local skills provision, giving local authorities and city regions more control over skills budgets could give more bang for the taxpayer’s buck by matching skills and training to what local employers need.

The promise of three million new apprenticeships is positive, but they must be of good quality to get more young people into good work –  46% of apprenticeship training providers are still rated by Ofsted as ‘requiring improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.  Careers advice in schools is woeful, despite the Government’s push to improve guidance for schools, increase Ofsted’s oversight and improve links between schools and employers.  Giving young people good quality, tailored careers advice with trained advisors while they are still at school could do more help them to find their first step on the career ladder as soon as they leave education, meaning fewer will need to rely on help from the state further down the line.