If you flick through the names in your mobile phone address book, the chances are you'll come across someone who is currently unemployed. Around 8% of the working population - 2.63 million people - were out of work in the first quarter of this year. The stuttering economic growth that continues to affect the country has been particularly harsh on the next generation of workers, the group of people that we will be relying on to bring us back to prosperous times in years to come - the 16-24-year-olds. There are currently nearly one million of them not in education, employment or training (NEETs), however.
From the government down, there is recognition that more needs to be done to give NEETs a better chance of finding new jobs, and to develop their skills and confidence to compete for vacancies. But here is the catch-22. In these pressured times, many employers are rightly focussed on productivity and results. So investing in recruitment and training is not being taken lightly. They want confidence it will pay off and expect new employees to have the right experience and skills to be of value from day one. They don't want to be hand holding their new recruits for the first few weeks after they start; they want them to hit the ground running.
Close work with employers is a vital to achieve this. The education funding market is changing and we must make full use of this to ensure that colleges and training providers can work with and support their local communities. We must develop learners with the right skills to directly meet the needs of surrounding employers, whether that is in engineering and manufacturing or business and law. Not only that, but we must also develop their ability, motivation and aspiration to strive further, either within education or work.
Creative planning and partnerships are key to ensuring NEETs are employable. For a start, this could see more providers working with local Jobcentres to offer a stepping stone to full-time training. EAL works with colleges and providers who are already taking advantage of this opportunity - successfully helping thousands into employment in various sectors. It is also important to get into schools and excite young learners about opportunities in UK industry, particularly sectors that are vital to economic recovery, such as engineering and manufacturing. There is a great deal of opportunity here, as Engineering UK research has shown two million skilled workers will be needed by the time today's pupils reach working age.
Tackling unemployment and economic strife through education requires flexibility and innovation. And this is behind EAL's new 'gateway to industry' level 1 qualifications', which are designed to address employability skills, basic practical abilities and health and safety awareness. They are designed to give learners a leg up into employment or spur them on to further education. In supporting NEETs, we have to recognise not everyone is equipped to start their learning at level 2. We must do all we can to give people of all education levels the best opportunity to unlock their potential.
Our aim is to give providers options to explore the best ways they can serve people in their catchment area. This could be through summer courses, evening classes or 'roll-on roll-off' programmes feeding into level 2 qualifications or Apprenticeships. The range of available units across engineering, manufacturing, electrical and plumbing means learning can be aligned to the labour demands from local employers. A lot of focus has gone into creating a menu of options for colleges and training providers, with Awards, Certificates and Diplomas to support programmes that can last from six weeks to a single term or a full academic year.
A similar approach has already rewarded Nissan and its supply chain partners in the North West, where a scheme designed with EAL and the NAC Group helped over 1,100 unemployed people into permanent jobs. Five times as many unemployed candidates are now successful in negotiating Nissan's recruitment process. It has also impacted retention, with 50 per cent fewer leaving the business during the first 13 weeks of their employment.
It is innovative solutions like this that are going to help bring unemployment down and allow NEETs to shake off their acronym by entering further education, employment or training.
Follow Ann Watson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EAL_Awards