Mike Theodoulou, CEO of The Centre for Building Social Action calls for the creation of an agency to co-ordinate responses to the challenges which will hit young people in Wales.
We all now accept that we are heading for the perfect economic storm without a realistic prospect of a quick bounce back. The combination of a global pandemic and the likelihood of a delayed or hard Brexit makes an early recovery the subject of dreams no matter what politicians say.
The reality is that as Government emergency support phases out, one in eight of us will be unemployed, with experts predicting over 4 million out of work. The situation for Wales is more than likely going to be far worse than the UK average.
In the recent past Wales has had an over-dependence on the public sector which, ironically, helped employment figures when the economy took a dive. With astronomic Government debt, the public purse will shrink and the public sector is more likely to add to the unemployed than otherwise.
The greatest danger we face is the prospect of lost generations, as the young in our society are the ones that will suffer the most.
When heavy industry in Wales was abandoned, youth unemployment went through the roof. Thirty years ago, CBSA started life as Foothold Youth Enterprise Agency. Foothold was formed to help local young people find alternatives to employment and begin a productive life. It was the only Youth Enterprise Agency registered by the Government in Wales and helped countless individuals into self-employment, traineeships, small business start-ups and partnerships.
The world has moved on in ways we could not have imagined then, and Maybe what is needed now is a radically different intervention from the Welsh Government.
We all accept that the world has changed, and so we need to do things differently.
Over the next few years, young people will need hope, a purpose, direction, ambition and a route through which they can gain all these things.
Starting with the Education system we need change. In Germany less of their young people are corralled into University. Their dual education system focuses on traineeships and apprentices with equal preparation and value and their economy benefits from it. We need to put the needs of the young people and our economy above academia and the tick-box culture which is holding back our teachers from delivering what is needed. Schools are not allowed to devote meaningful time to getting pupils ready for the world of work. Further, those pupils who will not engage with mainstream education (and may well be tomorrow’s business success) are side-lined by schools who are judged by a tick-box, academic driven system that alienates so many of our young people.
An over-focus on University places for all is just plain wrong, and at times like this it will produce unemployed graduates, in debt to the Government and possibly with degrees that no one needs. How is that helping them? Our Careers Service in Wales is useful, but how useful can it be when there is no prospect of a job at the end of their guidance. They have no experience and little understanding of the alternatives to working for someone, and are not in a position to help young people into sole trader, self-employed or small enterprise options.
Business Wales is good at helping existing businesses develop and grow, but are no longer as active as they used to be when it comes to small business start-ups, and are not specialists in dealing with young people.
It is plain that the today’s system, when it comes to dealing with young people in the current and foreseeable economic crisis, is not fit for purpose. What is needed is a holistic, co-ordinated approach Welsh response to the diverse needs of our young people. This cannot be left to the Education system or the Business support system alone, it’s not just a matter of careers advice. It has to be NEW, it has to be INDEPENDENT and it has to be NOW.
What we do not need are existing empires and fiefdoms wanting to grow, but a new agency which will focus on a holistic approach to prepare Wales for the future and avoid lost generations.
It does not need to be a delivery agency as there are plenty of those around. A new Welsh Youth Agency needs to study, research, carry out pilots, supply policy and action advice to the Welsh Government who will then decide on the best way to deliver.
Bringing together cross-sectoral expertise with one clear and focused objective can be done relatively quickly and cheaply. The time to act is now.