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The Labour Party needs a programme not just a plan for jobs

This article was first published on Shifting Grounds, 5 March, 2013

Getting back into government must be Labour’s number one priority – but to secure it we need to demonstrate, and not simply evangelise about, our desire to get Britain back to work. With more than five people chasing every job, Ed Miliband is right to focus on building a One Nation economy. But we don’t have to wait until we win to start making a difference to young people.

Our colleagues at Movement for Change have enthused Labour members with the mantra that “out of office need not mean out of power”, but so far the highest profile examples of our community organising principles have been on issues like legal loan sharks, which affects the money going out of people’s wallets, rather than issues like jobs and skills which affect how much money goes in. Labour Students have started to square that circle by applying M4C techniques to the living wage and their pioneering work has inspired me to think about how Labour can be a force for sustainable job creation as well as for fair job rewards.

In my own borough of Southwark, the council is drawing praise for its £3m Youth Fund and its economic wellbeing strategy. I’m now working with other Labour members to experiment with three ideas that would build on these initiatives. The first is an audit of current hiring practices to determine why local companies aren’t taking on local talent. Preliminary conversations suggest it would be relatively easy to equip Southwark’s young people with the skills local organisations say they need but struggle to find. Once we have more evidence of the problem, we will be asking local Labour members and supporters to invest time in application support, interview practice and careers mentoring for their younger neighbours.

The second is brokering relationships directly in the form of Jobs Fairs and Speed Networking events. Labour MPs are already showing what is possible. Siobhain McDonagh organised her own local work experience programme, Hazel Blears has rightly put a focus on building both the confidence and networks of young people and I was pleased to help out Stephen Timms and Lyn Brown with the CV surgeries they organised for young people at West Ham football stadium.

I’d like to build on these positive initiatives by seeing if they can be combined with the brilliant example of Future First which has found that some of the most powerful messengers to transform young people’s aspirations are people who attended the same school as them coming back to talk about their journey into work and success.  Perhaps a programme which combines sector specific ‘taster evenings’ with local business leaders talking about routes into their fields with these kind of peer-led events would give us the best of both worlds.

The third idea is the formation of a local work experience hub. My hope is that by convening local colleges, businesses, charities and the council, we will be able to better coordinate what is already there, spot big gaps in provision and get people to pool resources effectively. For example, if several organisations are taking on local apprentices at once, it would make sense for those young people to be trained together in transferable skills like project and time management.  Common provision is also a good carrot to secure common standards – if we help companies out by bringing their training costs down, we can make their participation conditional on paying the living wage and having no unpaid internships.  Likewise, this hub could signpost young people elsewhere: for example, instead of relying on payday lenders, we could ensure that every young person knows about the local credit union if they need help with a loan for new work clothes or a travel card.

Over time, I’d like us to be even more ambitious still and have Southwark’s Labour council pilot a full youth employment service. Schemes like OnPurpose combine meaningful work experience with accredited training so that its associates “graduate” with way more than just a reference. There is no reason the council couldn’t coordinate a group of businesses to offer intensive placements while convening FE providers to deliver modules tailored for that cohort. At the end of 2 or 3 years, young people who choose this learning “on AND off the job” route instead of university could be assessed and get a graded result, just like their HE peers.

Each of these ideas might make a difference, and there are plenty more out there as a quick glance at the Labour Enterprise Summary will show.  For me, the key is not which particular scheme gets picked up, but that we are willing to experiment at all. If we are serious about regaining the public’s trust we need to show that we’ve not just thought about how to use the levers of power, but have practical examples of what will happen when it is Ed Miliband rather than David Cameron who is pulling them.

Prem Goyal is a City entrepreneur, Vice Chair of Bermondsey and Old Southwark Labour Party and Chair of the Southwark Co-operative Party.

Written by Reporter