|A report into the Welsh Government's flagship Jobs Growth Wales programme has|
revealed some possible issues that suggest it might not be as great as claimed.
(Pic : Bridgend Council Business Zone)
It appears, however, that all that glitters isn't gold after all.
Launched in April 2012, Jobs Growth Wales – part backed by the European Social Fund – was set up to provide up to 16,000 unemployed people aged 16-24 with either a 25-40 hour a week job paid at minimum wage or above, or a £6,000 bursary to start a business. With cripplingly-high levels of youth unemployment in Wales since the Great Recession, the goal was to ensure young people moved off the dole into employment or self-employment.
Last week, Ipsos Mori published an interim report into Jobs Growth Wales (pdf - summary report) which was – it's fair to point out - commissioned by the Welsh Government themselves.
The Key Findings
|In terms of meeting targets, JGW really has been an unqualified success.|
(Pic : G2G Communities)
In terms of filling vacancies, JGW has – as the Welsh Government are keen to point out – been a success, finding 4,000 placements in its first year and by the end of 2013 that had reached just over 8,100. The latest figures are closer to 12,000. Although the number of graduate placements has stuttered, JGW is due to meet or exceed its targets.
The report says that JGW has made a positive impact on business recruitment decisions. However, two thirds of JGW posts would've been created anyway and the scheme has encouraged businesses to take on younger staff instead of more experienced temps. In a positive, the application process is said to be "straightforward and easy" for both applicants and potential employers.
73% of participants were offered a job at the end of their placements, and a majority accept those jobs. It's estimated that 27% of JGW applicants would not have found a job without the scheme's help. In addition, the scheme boosted applicants earnings by a collective £13.5million per year, and the wider economic impact could be up to £24.6million.
But – and it's a big but, I can't lie – the report says the economic impact figures might be overestimated because applicants were being paid minimum wage, as well as the fact JGW applicants were taking up jobs that would've been created anyway. This reduces the economic impact estimates to between £10-17million.
The policy itself – which was a Welsh Labour manifesto commitment in 2011 - is said to be justified because long-term unemployment can seriously damage young people's prospects later in life, like under-employment, difficulty in getting a job in the first place and permanent economic inactivity.
The review flags up issues about data collection and monitoring (which appears to be a serious problem across many Welsh Government schemes). Data was (inexplicably) kept by the individual agents managing the scheme then mashed together. This has since been resolved and data is entered straight into a central system, but follow-up inquiries with participants to see how they're doing have been a struggle.
Then there's arguably the biggest bump in the road – the job "quality". Many job placements are said to be in low-skill, low-wage positions. Most participants received some sort of training on-the-job, but employers say many of the applicants had lower literacy and numeracy skills. The average wage on a placement is just £5.80 per hour – 67% of the average wage for an 18-24 year old in Wales, which usually rises to 76% in those jobs filled by applicants leaving JGW.
The report's most damning criticism was that 73% of JGW applicants would've found jobs even if the scheme didn't exist. However, the scheme pays off due to the increase in confidence and length of time in employment applicants receive as part of the scheme.
Does it work?
|All programmes like this will hit "bumps", but perhaps things aren't as serious as claimed.|
Concerns about under-employment and low pay will need to be addressed, however.
(Pic : BBC Wales)
"By wasting precious money on people that don't need the support, they are failing the thousands of young people in Wales that desperately do. This scheme has done absolutely nothing to help the most disengaged and disadvantaged young people in Wales, and has actually entrenched low wage levels in our young workforce."
The issue was also raised a few times in the Assembly last week, with the responsibility for the scheme passing to new Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West).
16.09.14 – Business Statement & Announcement
Eluned Parrott AM : Minister, this morning the Welsh Government published its long-anticipated evaluation report into Jobs Growth Wales....it cost more than £100,000 to conduct this evaluation and it has taken nearly a year to agree the findings. So, can you tell me why the first major evaluation of a scheme that you have claimed was the best in the world, that is your flagship, and that is the First Minister’s default answer to everything, did not merit a statement in this Chamber today? Can you assure me that the Welsh Government will bring forward a statement to allow Members to scrutinise the Government on....one of your major policy achievements? Otherwise, cynics might be tempted to suggest that....you might not want to talk about it.
Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) : This summer, I have taken the opportunity to meet not only young people who have benefitted (sic) from Jobs Growth Wales, but also their employers.... In terms of the opportunities that you have—which you take advantage of, of course, Eluned Parrott—to scrutinise and ask questions of the Ministers, that is important. However, let us recognise what Jobs Growth Wales has achieved for those young people and how much the employers....value them. I would say also, as Minister for Finance, that it is vital that we have a clear evaluation of our programmes, and I am very confident that the evaluation has endorsed....what we are achieving in Jobs Growth Wales.
Llyr Gruffydd AM (Plaid, North Wales) : A report commissioned by the Government published this week includes an evaluation showing too much focus on those who are already employable. The report shows that 73% of....posts could have been created without Jobs Growth Wales. Do you....accept that we should shift the focus to....young people who are further away from the jobs market....rather than subsidising jobs that already exist?
Julie James AM : ....this is a very successful programme and....it has created over 15,000 jobs for young people....We know these other statistics as well: employers expand their workforce more rapidly than they otherwise would do....young people have stayed in work much longer....the programme is well ahead of schedule; more than a quarter of those finding work....would not have got a job at all without the programme; and, of the ones who might have got a job anyway, they got that job....eight weeks earlier..... However, I accept the Member’s point about the difficulties for young people who are not job ready and, as a result of that, we are....going to be channelling money into looking at people from Communities First areas....so that we can assist those most in need of getting ready for the job market to do just that.
It's quite clear that regardless of the weaknesses identified in the report, the Welsh Government are convinced JGW works.
I'm inclined to agree with them. Weighing everything up, I still believe this qualifies as one of those rarest of rare things : a Welsh Government success story. It's not perfect by any means, especially if it entrenches low pay and under-employment. Yet it still compares favorably to other Welsh Government-EU job schemes like the COASTAL project (more from Y Cneifiwr).
Plaid Cymru and others have also flagged up that funding for apprenticeships is due to be cut by up to £7million, which could reduce the number of places by half. The Welsh Government need to be careful that the progress they've made here, in attempting to reduce youth unemployment and low skill levels, doesn't blow up in their faces due to their tendancy to micromanage and tinker.