I would like to begin by thanking Channel 4 for asking me to open this debate today.
Although I am reasonably new to the post of Minister for Employment, that does not mean I am not acutely aware of the problems some young people experience when looking for that first job.
Let me be plain. For any young person who is able to work to be out of a job is a tragedy.
It is a tragedy for the individual, who finds themselves unable to get on in life…
It is a tragedy for their family, who have to motivate and support them…
And it is a tragedy for the country, which is missing out on a huge amount of untapped talent.
And I know that our young people are talented. The vast majority of young people are hard working…
…They are ambitious…
…And, above all, they have great potential.
You will be asking in your first session today if we are heading towards a lost generation of unemployed young people.
Let me say categorically: no, we are not.
As a government we are working tirelessly to make sure this does not happen. Indeed most 18-24 year olds leave JSA quickly. Around 60% of new claims last less than 3 months and 80% less than 6 months.
But it is true that the number of young people currently out of work is too high, and we are being honest about the scale of the challenge we face.
Previous governments have conveniently hidden the true scale of youth unemployment. They moved young people off JSA, called it something different, then put them back on again.
They were still unemployed, but it made the figures look better. They weren’t so much ‘lost’ - they were purposefully hidden.
We do not do this.
But getting the figures right is no substitute for sorting out the problem. So I am going to spend a few minutes telling you what we _are _doing.
For any young person looking for a job, often the biggest stumbling block is a lack of experience.
Sometimes it’s that they have a lack of understanding of what the world of work is really like. But more often it’s that a young person simply hasn’t had the chance to prove themselves. You need to be able to show an employer what you are capable of.
That is why, as part of the Government’s one billion pound Youth Contract, we are creating a quarter of a million extra work experience places over the next three years.
This gives 18-24 year olds the chance to do up to eight weeks of work experience while keeping their benefits. This provides a vital opportunity for young people to get their first foot on the career ladder.
But, of course, giving young people work experience is only one side of the coin. It will only be worth doing if we can help turn that experience into a real job.
And that is exactly what we are doing.
From January 2011 to May this year there have been nearly 65,000 young people starting a work experience placement. And our assessments show that nearly half of people who go on work experience are off benefits 21 weeks later. This is good for them and good for the country.
Let me give you one example of how we are helping people find jobs - much of the amazing work carried out during the Olympics was done by the army of volunteers, many of whom were young people looking to gain experience to help them find work.
Their enthusiasm, their work ethic, and their commitment was, I think you’ll all agree, second to none. Any sane employer should snap them up in an instant. Which why we are holding an event in Stratford today where 2,000 of those involved in the Olympics will meet employers with vacancies to offer now_. _
This will be the first in a series of such events. Events which are specifically targeted at those who were Games Makers or worked at Olympic venues. We want to help the people who helped to make the Olympic and Paralympic Games such a success, by moving them into long-term employment.
What a great lasting legacy that would be.
Whilst we will work with you to get you in work, we also need to work with business to make sure the jobs are there.
As our Olympics event shows, only by engaging with businesses can you create the jobs people need. Companies such as Whitbread, Debenhams, Ocado and Stagecoach will all be at the park this week, along with a number of smaller local businesses, all there to give people jobs.
So working with business is, in my view, vital. As a Government we need to show employers that taking on young people will be good for their business.
Indeed, later on today I will be with the CBI for the launch of the CIPD’s business case for investing in young people, which does just that. It will highlight the business imperatives that make young people such a vital component in an employers’ workforce.
We need to show employers that through things like our work experience and apprenticeship schemes we are creating a generation which is eager. A generation which is skilled. And a generation which is better prepared for the world of work.
And because we know times are tough for businesses, we want to make it easier to employ and train young people.
That is why, through our Youth Contract, the Government is offering up to 20,000 new Apprenticeship Grants to encourage new employers to take on young apprentices.
And that is why we are offering 160,000 cash payments of up to £2, 275 for employers to recruit young people from the Work Programme, or from Jobcentre Plus in 20 youth unemployment ‘hotspot’ areas.
So in opening today’s debate, I would like to conclude by saying to young people across the country that ensuring you are given every chance to get a job is my number one priority.
I don’t underestimate the challenges we face in an uncertain economy, but only by making sure you have the training, work experience and opportunities you need will we ensure our future.
And I would like to finish by appealing to businesses across the country:
Whether you are big or small, multinational or a local start-up: make use of the schemes we have in place. Work with us to help give a young person a chance.
Give them a chance to get their foot on the ladder…
…give them a chance to help your business grow…
…give them a chance to prove to you what they can do.