LAST week I visited Prospects in Redruth. They are one of the two firms in Cornwall tasked with running the Government's flagship Work Programme which is the most intensive scheme ever deployed to try to help the long-term unemployed back to work.
At the heart of their project is one simple aim: to help people get their confidence back so that they can find work and escape poverty. I think this is really important to areas like Camborne and Redruth. The loss of the mining industry and industrial giants like Holman Bros a generation ago was a major blow to this area. But we still have cutting-edge industry here and I want to see our towns get their confidence back and see local people taking the jobs that are created.
Too often in the past, providers of training schemes for the long-term unemployed appeared to be going through the motions with perhaps a bit of practise on interview skills or purchasing a new suit and not much else. In most cases the barriers to employment are far more complex than that.
A key feature of the new scheme is that organisations like Prospects who provide the training and support are paid well, but only if they succeed. They receive a small fee for initially taking someone on their books but only get the full payment once they have placed someone in work for six months. "Payment by results" really focuses minds on tailoring support to each individual. Sometimes this might require helping people regain confidence and self-esteem.
Alternatively, it might require efforts to develop motivation. Sometimes all that might be needed is some skills training and, in many cases, simply being given a break and having the chance to do voluntary work for a charity or have work experience with an employer is a stepping stone to paid work.
When the idea of developing work experience programmes to help tackle youth unemployment was first raised, some unions denounced the idea as "slave labour". I think that's nonsense and the facts have proved them wrong. Around 25 per cent of the people who have gone on to the Work Programme in Cornwall have already got back into work and, in many cases, the chance to have work experience has been the decisive factor. I heard of young people who, during their few weeks' work experience, impressed employers so much, that the employer created a paid vacancy for them. We need more of that.
I don't pretend it's perfect. We need to constantly refine the way the Work Programme operates, especially when it comes to supporting those with a disability, but the principle is right and it has made a good start.