Government should bite bullet on jobs for young people

Stevie Upton on a new IWA report that says many young people have no chance of finding mainstream jobs

According to an IWA report published today, the Welsh Government should acknowledge that for many young people mainstream jobs are simply not available and instead look for alternative options – public works, social activity and subsidised personal enterprise. The report Engaging Wales’ Disengaged Youth asks what meaningful long-term opportunities the Welsh Government can provide for the 12 per cent of Welsh 16-18 year olds, and 22 per cent of 19-24 year olds, who are currently not in education, employment or training (NEET).

In his contribution to the study, Professor Howard Williamson of the University of Glamorgan asks whether we should “bite the awful bullet” and acknowledge that sustainable employment for all might not be a realistic proposition.

Fortunately, the picture is not entirely bleak. Alongside this stark question the report highlights the positive actions of organisations from across Wales that work to engage young people who are, or are at risk of becoming, NEET. The account that emerges is one not only of committed professionals but of motivated young people. For every young person who is ‘deeply alienated’, many more are keen to re-engage.

One success story presented in the report is that of Charlotte Blackwell, a teenage mother who referred herself to Cyfle, Wrexham’s pupil referral unit for young mothers. Charlotte, who gave a presentation to an IWA conference on which the report is based, passed the Welsh Baccalaureate and moved into full time employment. In doing so, she has avoided becoming one of the 84 per cent of teenage mothers who are NEET. She says it has ‘meant the world’ to her to be able to speak out about her experiences.

The importance of being given a voice is by no means uniquely felt: among others, Richard Newton, Director of the charity Rathbone Cymru, emphasises its part in the attainment of successful outcomes by and for young people.

A further key message is that, in the impending ‘age of austerity’, far better co-ordination between the public and charitable sectors will be necessary. Recognising the challenge that this represents, the report examines existing case studies of partnership working in the south Wales valleys.

Launched midway between publication of the Enterprise and Learning Committee’s report on young people not in education, employment or training, and the Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning’s forthcoming statement on the issue, the IWA’s report makes a timely contribution to the debate.

Engaging Wales’ Disengaged Youth is available from the Institute of Welsh Affairs as a hard copy publication at £5. Alternatively it can be downloaded free here via the website,, or on 029 2066 0820.

Dr Stevie Upton is a Research Officer with the IWA.

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