Nick Clegg: New approach opens up world of work

EVERYONE deserves the chance to do well and get on in life and I am determined that we do all we can to help young people get onto the right path. That means giving them the help and support they need to find work and training. And from today, for the very first time in the UK, 16 and 17-year-olds will be able to get that help from their local Jobcentre. Sheffield is one of four areas in England to pilot this new scheme which allows young people to talk through all their options, one-to-one, with specially trained coaches.

Previously, you could only go to Jobcentre Plus and get this help if you were 18 or older. That just seems wrong. We want to get in there early and support young people when they need it, not make them wait until their 18th birthday.At the moment, support for under-18s can be patchy and young people don’t have a single point of contact to help them get a job, so they often don’t know where to turn and are left on the outside looking in.

We need to simplify the options available and speed up the route into work or training. From today it couldn’t be simpler – go to your Jobcentre and get help. Jobcentre work coaches have a huge amount of expertise and local knowledge that they can use to help young people steer through the dizzying array of options on offer. The work coaches will be in touch with local authorities, employers, charities and local community organisations to help 16 and 17-year-olds take the next step into education, training or employment.

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Work coaches have seen great success supporting over-18s into work, which is why we want to give younger people the opportunity to sit down with an expert and get information about different schemes, like apprenticeships and traineeships, or help to apply for jobs and training places. Every young person is different, so the support they receive will be uniquely tailored to them. That means if they want to find out about work experience they can, or if they want more information on writing their CV or preparing for an interview, they will be given the specific advice they need.

Even if a young person doesn’t know what they want to do, the work coach will be able to talk them through their options and introduce them to employers and employment opportunities in different sectors to give them an insight into a wide variety of jobs.

If these pilots in Sheffield, Lewisham, Norfolk and Hertfordshire are successful, I want to see this new way of helping young people rolled out across the country so that all 16 and 17-year-olds can access a wealth of job and training opportunities.

Unfortunately, there is still a barely concealed snobbery in this country against vocational education. For far too long, academic qualifications have been seen as better than vocational qualifications, but nothing could be further from the truth. Look at any successful economy, like Germany or the Netherlands, and you’ll see that their vocational system is every bit as strong, well-respected and popular as their higher education systems. These countries are getting it right.

So, last year, I commissioned a government review – along with the Prime Minister – to see what more we could do to boost vocational learning, simplify the system and give young people a helping hand as they make these important decisions. And in February, I outlined a wide range of concrete measures to help more young people into work, training or education. This includes a new UCAS-style one stop online shop for young people who don’t want to go to university; boosting the careers guidance offered in schools and trying out new ways of using Jobcentre support to help young people.

I am proud of what the Liberal Democrats in this coalition Government have already achieved to help young people by creating a record number of new apprenticeships; raising the quality of vocational qualifications; launching traineeships and making it easier for businesses to take on young people through the Youth Contract. At last, 
the number of young people out of 
work is coming down and the number of 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in education and training is at the lowest level since records began. But as our economy gets stronger, we need to 
make sure that every single young 
person shares in the recovery and 
can realise their ambitions and 
full potential.

Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP.