The skills to pay the bills….

THE Government finally told us what those who ever signed up to Jobskills knew – it was a waste of their time and taxpayers’ money. There’s a discussion on the political and economic arguments surrounding the civil service here, but doesn’t everyone have a Jobskills story to tell? Personally, I found it a bit of a joke, and here’s why…After graduating, I was lucky enough to be able to continue with my part-time McJob until something better turned up. I was sending out CVs and applying for loads of jobs, but wasn’t having any luck.

As a lack of experience in my chosen field seemed to be the problem, I thought I’d better get some.

I’d done a bit of work experience in a local paper as part of the degree, so I asked them if they’d let me come in and see how it’s done, which they did. Eventually, on my days off from the part-time work, I’d work in the paper for nothing, to get to know the ropes.

Then someone mentioned Jobskills.

The deal seemed to be that rather than get paid nowt for the work, you’d get ‘paid’ a small benefit but have to work towards a GNVQ (or something) at the same time.

The dole plus a tenner a week, plus still able to work the weekends in the old part-time job (while living at home) wasn’t much, but enough to get by for a while. Dandy.

Unfortunately, you were also required to go to these, well, classes is the closest description, but since I never learned anything useful in them, I’m not sure it’s the right word. They were held once a week. The main problem was, that the training firm didn’t offer any ‘classes’ in anything remotely relevant to what I was doing. Or anyone else.

Anyway, it was a complete waste of my time and theirs, so I never bothered going after ‘Heath & Safety 4’. I was bored to tears. Myself and the ‘teacher’ (someone from a year or two above me in school) couldn’t have cared less about the material we had to read through in the small office the ‘class’ was held in.

It ended up I was basically working more for less than I was getting before. It was OK for me to do this for a while to get to know what’s what, but it isn’t exactly enticing.

Given the costs involved in getting to work, I think I would have been better off financially to have never signed up to the scheme and stayed with the part-time job while popping into the paper when I could – or even do nothing at all, except sign on.

But I liked what I was doing, so I just carried on. I realise the scheme wasn’t really designed for me, but the learning aspect the provider was obliged to force upon those who signed up was totally irrelevant to the others in the class too. Few attended.

Any benefit that myself and others got was from being in the place of employment. It worked both ways. Employers got a steady supply of cheap labour, while the trainee got the experience. I’d arranged my own placement, but I pity anyone that couldn’t and ended up with the kind of factory work I landed into on a previous ‘training’ scheme. Some got paid something for their efforts from the company they were placed with, but eventual job success seemed to have little to do with the training ‘provider’ and a lot to do with employers.

In the end, I got lucky. Someone left the company I was placed with, so I applied for their job (which I had been doing for a year anyway) and got it.

It really doesn’t surprise me that Jobskills was a shambles in so many ways. It was like a middleman sticking its nose in, and a rather pointless one too. That’s just my own rather unexciting experience. I’m sure it helped a lot of people get their foot on the bottom rung, but the horror stories are plentiful.

Got one?

  • Scotsman

    Gonzo, as a graduate you would not be a typical Jobskills trainee. In fact, I doubt that was the scheme you were on. Graduates have their own make-work schemes like the RAP course. Jobskills is/was aimed at school leavers. As with similar schemes in GB, it works on the government guarantee of a job, education or training for all 16 and 17 year-olds- that’s why they are not entitled to benefit.

    The problem in NI is the lack of jobs, thereby leaving the Training providers to babysit the unemployed and badly educated and put them onto placements that they know would most likely not lead to a job even if they performed well.

    Not a recipe for motivation for anyone involved.

    A lot of these kids are just not equipped for the modern workplace, but Jobskills is still better for them than the dole.

    I guess the scandal would be the amount of money being made by the various training providers, but most of their staff are not very well paid, so I don’t know where it’s all gone to.

  • Alan

    *A lot of these kids are just not equipped for the modern workplace, but Jobskills is still better for them than the dole.*

    Or Jobskills providers were not equipped to train jobskills participants to access the modern workplace. There is a clear problem of who defines what is taught on courses and who continues to take money from courses that they know make no difference to people’s lives.

    Someone should have seen the drop out figures and there should have been action taken.

    On training providers, there seems to be a need to review what they actually provide to trainees. I remember, and it may well be a different set of training organisations (although I wonder!), the sad case of individual learning accounts which ended because some providers were abusing the system wholesale.

  • Scotsman

    I would not defend the system as it stands, but people should look at the reality. A large chunk of the kids on these schemes have failed utterly at school, with qualified and experienced teachers available for them. Why would training providers do any better?

    On jobskills, they spend most of their time on placement. Some are not ready for placement and providers receive additional money to get them ready. We are talking basic English and Maths, IT etc, but also issues around attendance, behaviour and, let’s be frank, personal hygiene. Staff time is taken up with chasing up non-attenders who play havoc with the statistics.

    It’s a difficult task, made impossible by the reality of the shrinking labour market for 16 year-olds i.e nobody wants ’em. Those PT Mcjobs that they might be considered for are often held by their more disciplined peers, i.e. students!

    For those that are on placements, what is “taught” is essentially what they learn at work. They are doing NVQ’s and providing evidence of their learning at work. It is up to the employer to train them, but the youngsters don’t always make it worth their while.

    Many of the “middle” group whom employers might have taken for apprenticeships are these days staying on at school and even heading for university.

    The remaining lumpenproles are on jobskills until they are old enough to sign on at 18. Some, of course, do succeed in getting jobs or going into FE, whether connected to their Jobskills training or not.

    Even with changing demographics in future, many of these kids are still likely to be the last people you would consider hiring as an employer.

  • mick hall

    Scotsman’s argument that such courses as Gonzo mentioned are better for the unemployed than the dole is completely wrong. Indeed I cannot think of anything more demoralizing than a youngster or indeed adult being told they are going on a gateway to work only to find themselves in a converted shop, marking time in the manner gonzo wrote about. Such arguments come from having a low opinion of those without work, after all Gonzo points out that he himself went out and looked for both part time work and work experience. Ah some might say, but this is because he is a graduate, what arrogance and lack of empathy.

    All and I mean all such schemes, whether they are what the wretched David Blunkett was up to with incapacity/invalidity benefits, or the scheme gonzo mentioned are designed to drive people off benefit. The job centre etc care not a jot what happens to these people as long as they go away.

    True some claimants end up getting into paid work, normally minimum wage stuff, but as long at is a proper job I agree this is better than benefit. Sadly the vast majority do not find work through these schemes, indeed whilst they are on them real job opportunities may pass them by.

    The reason nine out of ten of these schemes are worthless is because they are designed as I have said to drive people of benefits. Whereas they should be designed to either move people into work or re-skill them.

    There is a skill shortage right across the UK, back in the 1960s and early 70’s, when something similar existed the government set up what was called Government Training Schemes. Unemployed people where sent on six month courses, often away from home at which they were put through an intensive re-skilling/training course almost to apprenticeship levels. The percentage at the end of the 6-months moving from training directly into work was over 90 percent, indeed if my memory serves me correctly, the skill centers guaranteed they would find a job for their students. Of course the rub is these courses where expensive, lodgings away from home had to be found as they were not employer based, the reason being back then it was felt employers would use unemployed labour to replace proper jobs. And so it has proved with the current crop of schemes.

    I recently looked in at a job centre, the most common job to be advertised on their position vacant boards was that of HGV lorry driver. I asked what training is available and was told about the usual IMO pretty useless schemes. I reminded the guy behind the counter that they seemed to have a need for HGV drivers. He replied we can just not fill those vacancies. I enquired whether they run training courses for HGV drivers. As with luck for approx. £500-750 one can train someone with a driving license to become an HGV driver and with intensive training in a short space of time.

    Oh no we do not do anything like that, we have some good schemes to help people back into work though, how to write out a CV etc. Im sure there are lots of jobs which are crying out for skilled labour, instead we get schemes to drive people off benefit and onto the minimum wage or worse into the black economy. By the way when was the last time you read about an employer being prosecuted for employing people on the lump.

    regards to all

  • Comrade Stalin

    I found that very insightful reading, thanks Mick.

    I agree, if the government is serious about retraining people and creating jobs, it must pay the money to train people properly and effectively. At the moment for example there is a clear shortage in the trades, so much so that people with engineering degrees are going back to apprenticeships to become plumbers, electricians and bricklayers – and there seems to be good money in those businesses too. It is expensive to train people into such skilled labour, but I believe it would pay off in short order.

  • Nestor Makhno

    Maybe it’s a broader problem. The economy is changing. The really crap jobs that required little or no skills are getting increasingly scarce (whether to automation or changes in society).

    On the whole this is probably a Good Thing – who wants to spend their life fixing bits and bobs together in a factory when a robot can do it quicker and cheaper)?

    But it does leave a huge problem – a hell of a lot of people who are either not intellectually equipped to do anything else. Where do they fit into the shiny new world of the knowledge economy?

    Reminds me of a few years ago when a couple of shell-suited kids stopped me in the street to ask me to identify something they had obviously just stolen from a nearby shop – it was an mp3 player. I tried to explain to them what it was and they just couldn’t understand the concept.

    Is it going to get to the point where you even need brains for mindless thieving?

  • Gonzo


    I agree that Jobskills wasn’t designed with graduates in mind, but if it’s between a choice of getting paid experience or sitting in a dead end job, it wasn’t much of a choice.

    In the end I went back to uni and got a better qualification with work experience with a completely ‘relevant’ employer. It was what I would have done after uni, had that second course existed then.

    However, for many people Jobskills didn’t really seem to have much going for it, aside from the possibility of some workplace experience.

  • Scotsman

    Mick Hall,

    We are talking about 16 and 17 year-olds with no qualifications who are not in work. The sheer fact of getting up reliably for 9 each morning offers them better prospects than having endless free time. Many of those who fail to secure jobs are those who cannot manage this task. Better pay/allowances for trainees would help, but a lot of it is about maturity and understanding the culture of the workplace.

    Obviously, the HGV example is poorly chosen as no 16 or 17 year old can train for this job. But employers will not recruit “difficult” employees unless someone makes it worth their while.

    You cannot train people in isolation- they need to be in a workplace.

    The difficulty comes when trainees are not ready to go into the workplace- providers get more money, which amounts to a perverse incentive.

    Youth training works fairly well when youngsters get into a workplace and are well-supervised by employers and supported by training providers.

    Construction is one of the areas where the incentives are still there for employers to take people on, thanks to an industry training levy. Funnily enough, they find it hard to recruit people capable of passing their basic tests.

    There’s no doubt that training should be improved, and that the money could be spent more wisely. Yet in places such as Germany where vocational training retains a high status, this has not prevented mass youth unemployment.

    There’s no simple answer to the problem of youth unemployment and graduate underemployment. Maybe Jobskills is a humiliating waste of time and money, and the New Deal for adults likewise just an attempt to hush up massive labour market failure.

    Even a better youth training programme would still face numerous barriers to success, but if we look at Gonzo’s experience, he has already had government funding most if not all of his HE, and then paying out more in some attempt at further training once he’s unemployed. Would he have succeeded more quickly by staying on the dole?

    There seemed to be ample time for job-hunting while he was on the scheme, so it seems to me more beneficial than unemployment in the vast majority of cases.

    The key is whether or not claimants are forced onto these schemes. Some will benefit from the “cruel to be kind” threats of benefit cuts. Others will find ways round it. I find it hard to argue that under 18’s who have the opportunity to learn something, however little, should instead be allowed to sit at home claiming benefit instead.

  • Scotsman

    When all’s said and done, I’m glad I am not a school-leaver whose only choice is Jobskills. It would be highly dispiriting to train for a job that you’re never going to get. But the general “hidden curriculum” of such schemes will benefit most young people, even if the message is that you need to find an alternative. I don’t think there’s anything socialist about letting them sit home and watch daytime TV instead.

    “From each according to his ability….”

  • mick hall


    I do not wish to be rude towards you as you appear to be someone who cares about the issue we are discussing, but do you know what I object to most about some of the opinions you have expressed; and im not singling out you alone, as these opinions are expressed right across the political spectrum amongst those who believe there is no alternative to neo-liberal economics. It is this, you blame the youngsters for their short comings and refuse to look at a system which amongst enormous wealth is turning out Kids who are according to you so ill equipped for the world, we as adults have created for them.

    Not only do you blame the kids, but you wish to punish them by deducting their benefits if they refuse to dance to your tune and enter these worthless schemes. You mention the youngsters are not disciplined enough to enter the world of work, something incidentally I would challenge, although I understand the point you make. But if your correct, you must be aware they equally will not enter one of these schemes, nor if they do, have the self discipline to remain on it. Hell no matter, thats the purpose of it is it not, you stop the benefit, they say up yours and head for the black economy and abracadabra, one less kid on the unemployed list, the scheme is a success and we can all look down our noses at the number of unemployed in Germany.

    Of course we need to make sure when children leave school they do so with recognized qualifications. However, this does not mean we should direct those who have none to the scrap heap or to the agony of a life time on the dole or spent working in a job they hate and see as pretty pointless beyond the income it provides them with.

    These days there is an enormous variety of professions and jobs, many of which did not exist in the past, and in which an academic qualification is not of the utmost importance. If anyone doubts this or that ill educated people can play a constructive role in society, given a chance. I suggest they have a stroll around the likes of Canterbury Cathedral or some such great building and see what illiterate and uneducated people can achieve if they put their minds to it.

    I suppose what im saying is stop pigeon holing people because through no fault of their own, as children they failed to become educated, perhaps if we were to do so, a great deal of the rage we often witness would disappear.

    Yes it will all cost money, yet the UK government is currently wasting billions of pounds in Iraq and is about to pour tax payers money down a bottomless drain in their search for a replacement for Trident. Yet we are told we cannot afford to equip our youngsters for the world of work, nor provide jobs even if we did so. You could not make it up.

  • barnshee

    “Yet we are told we cannot afford to equip our youngsters for the world of work, nor provide jobs even if we did so. You could not make it up. ”

    How many of you have any real experience of “job Skills” and the rest of the moronic schemes imposed by government.

    3 years as a”jobskills teacher” taught me

    1 The clients are the non achievers of society -they can’t be arsed to get out of bed half the time.

    2 The appear on the program to protect their benefits.

    3 They have had full exposure to the educations system and have nothing to show for it -no parental example- no effort (and often no fucking brains) how is 10 years of non achievement supposed to be turned round in weeks or months??

    4 The NVQ system is a worthless –the evidence “created” is often provided by the teacher –in 99% of the cases the teacher got the NVQ.

    5 The government department in charge worked a no pass no fee system –where participants did not pass the training company did not get paid- guess what folks -they passed.

    6 The school/university/institute system already provide first second and third opportunities to get skills and qualifications. If individuals cannot take advantage of the existing systems the “job skills” and similar exercises are futile. They are simply unemployable.

    There are already thousands of made up jobs in N Ireland we really don`t need any more.