Youth Guarantee, making a difference

We have not shied away from exposing problems over the past 17 months and we promise not to do so in the coming years. If you don’t acknowledge the problem in public, no real policy can ever be formulated to tackle these issues

Over the past months we have launched the Youth Guarantee scheme whereby through a number of initiatives we are tackling issues which have been lying dormant for years. There are many reasons why a person is not in a job, training or in education and it could go back to the days of his or her Primary school years. The social environment is an important aspect. It is one of the reasons why some persons do not take the initiative and if they are unable to find a job, they can obtain the necessary skills through improved education.

Those who are not in a job or getting education are classified as NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training) and through the Jobs Plus team we have sent an invitation to almost 7,000, whom we deem could classify in this category. We expect to have feedback from 400 individuals in this category and while this may seem a limited success, this is actually higher than the 350 individuals we have targeted. Are we going to stop and rest on our laurels just because we’ve reached 400 individuals from this category?  Of course not. However when one considers that the relevant authorities left this group of people by the wayside for years, it is definitely a step in the right direction.

There is a lot that still needs to be done, however one has to appreciate what we’re dealing with here. We are talking about 23-24-year-olds who have left the education system at 16 and have hardly touched, let alone finished, any real educational programme since then. Some of these did manage odd jobs here and there, but they were not able to sustain employment for any considerable length of time.

In past years these people were simply put under the carpet because they didn’t fit the previous government’s political narrative of how great the youth unemployment figures were.

We do things differently - we have not shied away from exposing the problems over the past 17 months and we promise not to do so in the coming years. This is because we believe that if you don’t acknowledge the problem in public, no real policy can ever be formulated to tackle these issues.

Last week, when I was speaking about school buildings, I spoke about such a need. This is very similar to it ¬– when authorities disregard a problem such as this, in order to ‘keep up appearances’, it lets down the people themselves and the government loses touch with reality.

These people want programmes that can help them get the necessary skills, or in some cases the necessary social behaviour, in order to find productive employment. In these cases, problems have been accumulating since 2006 and very little has been done to target these individuals and help them get on their feet. The success of this part of the Youth Guarantee will ultimately depend on how many of these 400 individuals will effectively manage to find meaningful employment or will continue to further their education.

The scope of the Youth Guarantee is not only to tackle the problem once this is a reality, but also to pre-empt it. Prevention is better than cure and that is what we are working at. We want to eradicate this problem and not solve it.

Over 1,300 students who were awarded 6, 7 and U grades in their English, Maths, Maltese and Physics SEC examinations were given free revision classes over the summer period. The guarantee, funded by the ESF, also provided relevant material such as past papers to the students.

A total of 68% of students with the above mentioned grades, are attending these classes regularly. This means that some students may have applied for three classes but have decided to concentrate on just one or two subjects and not attending the third one. It could also mean that students have applied after insistence by their parents but have either gone to private classes or decided to throw in the towel. Irrespectively, we must continue to work towards providing a relevant educational experience and help students continue their studies.

Together with the SEC Revision Classes the guarantee also funds revision classes for MCAST students who are re-sitting a number of subjects. We’re doing our utmost to ensure that these students do not become a casualty and we are aiming to give them every opportunity to recover and continue their studies.

Over the coming days we’ll also be celebrating the fact that through the Youth Guarantee’s Alternative Learning Programme, over 100 Form 5 students who did not even apply for a single SEC exam in January 2014, have successfully finished their alternative programme. They will receive a respectable accreditation which allows them to continue on their educational path. This is a policy that we feel strongly about because it makes a very tangible effect in a person’s future and well-being.

It is indeed a sad reality that we have people in their twenties who have given up hope. We are working towards making sure that this group of people doesn’t increase in size while at the same time we want to work with them to help them stay away from the very possible reality of being on social benefits for the rest of their lives. Through the Youth Guarantee initiatives we have made the initial steps and it is now the right time to roll up our sleeves and make a difference.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment