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Work Experience

Volume 547: debated on Monday 25 June 2012

6. What recent assessment he has made of the benefits for jobseekers of undertaking work experience. (113184)

18. What recent assessment he has made of the benefits for jobseekers of undertaking work experience. (113198)

Early analysis shows that approximately half of participants are off benefit within 21 weeks of starting a work experience placement. I am delighted that, despite a campaign run by anarchists and members of the Labour party, just like hon. Gentlemen on the Benches opposite me, to try to blight the chances of these young people, employers continue to come forward to join this excellent scheme. Young people have overwhelmingly shown that they want this valuable experience by continuing to volunteer to do their part.

It is good news that young people and people on work experience schemes come off them within 21 weeks. How does that compare with the new deal set up by the previous Government?

It compares very favourably. First, it is better. Secondly, it costs a lot less. Labour paid huge sums of money up front, whereas we pay the jobseeker’s allowance. The key point is that not once has any Opposition Front-Bench Member got up to defend this work experience programme, which many of their colleagues attack and try to destroy.

Will my right hon. Friend remind us how long a young person can stay on the work experience scheme before they lose their benefit, and how that compares with the situation under the previous Government?

This is the interesting bit, because the previous Government legislated for work experience before they left office and now attack it, but they allowed people only two weeks, which was not enough time for them to get the experience they needed. We have given people two months, and a third month if the employer offers them either an apprenticeship or a job.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, much like work experience for students in education, work experience for the unemployed plays a vital role in their securing the right habits in order to secure full-time employment eventually?

Yes, and one interesting fact is that although the ex-Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Prescott, attacked the scheme that had some difficulties in relation to young people learning and training, it turns out that the vast majority of them wanted to do it. Moreover, they got an experience that has allowed them to go after jobs at the Olympic park paying over £9 an hour, which they would not have had an opportunity to do if the Opposition had had their way.

Clearly, young people in particular will benefit from being able to acquire and demonstrate skills that are of value in the workplace. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should be doing everything we can to encourage employers to give similar placements?

I agree with my hon. Friend. One of the big problems we had was that some people, including the Labour party and those anarchists, have tried to stop those companies from doing that. I sometimes get confused as to who the anarchists are and who the Labour party members are when I look at the Opposition line-up, but the reality is that this is good for the young people who do it; it is good in terms of their experience; and they actually ask for it in the first place.

When travelling around my constituency, I have been very struck by how enthusiastic young people are to get work experience. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite what the cynics say, young people are very keen to get work experience because they know that it helps prepare them for a real job?

I agree. Actually it is so good that they volunteer for it; I wonder whether we should run a work experience programme for those on the Opposition Front Bench.

It is very difficult for Opposition Members to get a word in on this one. Is not the Secretary of State being rather silly, because most people know that if the work experience is of high quality and does not displace other people’s jobs, we are all in favour of it? Is it not about time that all of us on both sides of the House made sure that we had decent schemes for young people, which are of high quality and lead to jobs?

I respect the hon. Gentleman and I am grateful for those comments; I wish that everybody else on his side of the House approached this issue with the same attitude. Work experience has resulted in about half those going on to it getting off the benefits roll. They want to do it—this is really important—and what they are getting from it is experience they cannot otherwise get. Employers say to people time and again, “We can’t employ you because you don’t have experience,” yet they could not get that experience. Surely this has got to be a good thing for them and a good thing for all of us.

I, too, support good quality work experience that genuinely enhances employability, but as the Secretary of State seeks to roll out this initiative, what steps are his Department taking to ensure that high quality is maintained and that such work experience does not become a way for employers to churn cheap labour at the bottom?

Of course, the hon. Lady is absolutely right, and the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), is absolutely focusing on this issue with Jobcentre Plus. If we hear of any programmes that are not in that category, we will not allow young people to go on them. However, the key thing to bear in mind here is that this gives young people a real chance to get something they can sell to an employer. We should all back that, and I wish that more people were like the hon. Members who have just spoken.

The questioners on the Government Benches asked about recent assessment of work experience, but the Secretary of State responded by talking about figures that he has been punting for several months now. Has he carried out any further assessment since the pilot project that produced those figures, which is nearly a year old now, given that the only other published assessment, of mandatory work experience, suggested that it did not work?

We published these figures two months ago, but if the hon. Lady really wants to press me, I hear anecdotally from those in the Work programme that it is even better.

The Secretary of State may be interested to hear that Birmingham Labour went into the local election campaign promising work experience, so it is wrong to say that the Opposition are against it. However, the purpose of all this is to get people into work, and that requires a skills base. Has he assessed how much of the extra training of some people within companies is merely replacing what they are already doing, and how much is genuinely new commitment by companies to the training of young people?

We believe that the programmes brought forward to us, and which these young people are volunteering for, constitute genuine experience that they will gain and that the companies were not necessarily providing before. Of course, I fully accept that we want to ensure that those are high quality, and I congratulate the hon. Lady, not for the first time, on genuinely looking at this issue from the point of view of the problem and how we solve it. I wish there were more people doing that, but the trouble is that Opposition Front Benchers absolutely do not attack those who spend their time trying to destroy the work experience programme.

We introduced mandatory work experience under the flexible new deal and we support, as we have heard from a number of my hon. Friends, proper work experience that leads to jobs. However, why did the Secretary of State scrap our scheme and instead pour millions into a mandatory work activity scheme that his own Department says has no impact? Should he not sort out this shambles before announcing his next set of half-baked changes?

I see that the Opposition have discovered one word that they can now all say because it is not too long for them: shambles. The only shambles that we see is what is going on on their Front Bench. The reality is that we did not persist with the two-week work experience programme because all the young people told us that it did not work—they needed more time. That is what you do: when you hear the truth from people who need your support, you act on it, like we did, and give them that extra time.