Listening the key to helping young people into work, education or training

With the Welsh Government recently launching the Youth Engagement and Progression Framework in order to reduce the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs), the national NEET Conference (Nov 28th) was ideally timed provide an update on how to implement the framework and increase participation. The Wales Audit Office’s Steve Martin spoke at the conference and shares his thoughts here on why listening is the key to success with young people.

Speaking at the recent National NEET Conference last week it was good to hear of progress being made in many parts of the country. The Auditor General’s report, published in July was positive about the Welsh Government’s Youth Engagement and Progression Framework and how it could lead to better co-ordination of local work and help reduce numbers of NEETs aged 16-18. Crucially the report said it was less clear how it would help those 19-24’s and this was a concern shared by many at this Capita hosted conference, in Cardiff.

Paul Napier from Rathbone Cymru was concerned that there could be reductions in funding for Jobs Growth Wales and other schemes. Helen Mary Jones from Youth Cymru (@HelenMaryCymru) championed the need for open access youth facilities and the involvement of voluntary youth organisations. She also argued strongly that policy makers and agencies needed to listen to the young people who were NEET and those most at risk of disengagement.

This was a challenge taken up strongly in North Wales by Samantha McIlvogue and colleagues from the Progressive Engagement Pathway (PEP) project of the Conwy and Denbighshire Local Service Board. They had been able to listen to groups of disengaged young people. Sixty-one young people shared their experiences directly and another 140 gave their views through a survey. The team discussed their findings with staff at Job Centres and other agencies and have come up with ‘PEP Step’, a new referral process that is enabling referral between Job Centres and Careers Wales and agencies that can help young people. These are some impressive results, there is also a host of information available in their newsletter and regular updates via the Twitter profile @PEPTalk1924 (definitely worth adding yourself to their list of followers).

This is just one of the great examples of where listening and engagement is helping public services reach out to young people and really make a difference. It is good to see that real progress can come from listening to young people themselves and reminds me of the words of the Children’s Commissioner Keith Towler, at the recent Wales Audit Office Conference, when he said that we need to put an end to ‘tokenism’ and that real listening and real commitment was needed from leaders when it comes to engaging and listening to young people.

Wise words and a challenge that we all need to take up.

About the author

Stephen has worked for the Wales Audit Office (WAO) and one of its predecessor bodies, the Audit Commission in Wales, since 2001. His current role focuses on the project management of value for money examinations on behalf of the Auditor General for Wales, including reports published over the past two years on Young People not in Education, Employment and Training (July 2014), Covering Teacher Absence (September 2013) and the Education of Looked After Children (Sept 2012). Between 2010 and 2012, Stephen managed the WAO’s local government performance audit work across three local authorities in North-East Wales and has regularly been involved in local authority inspections and joint work with Estyn. Prior to joining the Audit Commission in Wales, he was joint commissioning manager for children‘s services in Liverpool, director of social and community work for a voluntary organisation and has a background as a community development worker.

In a voluntary capacity, Stephen has been a youth worker, school governor, and active church member. He enjoys walking, especially in Pembrokeshire, films and football.

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