That was the message from a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) official who says that the county’s “youth hubs” have proved to be a less intimidating environment than traditional job centres.
Shane Byrne, a DWP partnership manager in the North West, told a recent meeting of Lancashire County Council’s external scrutiny committee that the 16-24-year-olds that the hubs are designed to help are the age group most at risk of having their prospects damaged during economic slumps like the one sparked by Covid.
“In previous recessions… they have struggled to move into work for the first time, they have struggled to gain work experience [and] they have found it difficult to access employment, education and training [because of] the fact that they have been locked in bedrooms and left behind,” Mr. Byrne said.
Eight youth hubs have been established in the county over the last year - including one in Preston (at Preston College), Chorley (in the town’s Youth Zone) and Leyland (at the Civic Centre).
The meeting heard that their locations in the heart of local communities - and their less formal settings - were intended to make young people feel more comfortable and also to help forge partnerships with other organisations who are best-placed to help them into the world of work, including local employers taking part in the government’s Kickstart scheme to provide a six-month job to the under-24s.
Mr. Byrne said that the aim of the hubs was to equip young adults with the skills they need to take advantage of the opportunities that are on offer to them.
“We wanted it to be different…something vibrant. That formal environment [of a job centre] is very mandatory [and] very closed - it’s [saying]: ‘You will do this, this and this’. But we were acutely conscious from feedback…that young people don't always find that inclusive, they don't find that warm and welcoming - they're quite intimidated by it.
“So these youth hubs have been absolutely phenomenal in changing the perception of young people and how they engage with us,” Mr. Byrne added.
The committee was told that those young people deemed to be in need of it are offered tailored support to make them as attractive as possible to prospective employers - including by creating a CV and training them in so-called “soft skills” like communication, particuarly with those who are older than them.
Mr. Byrne also told the meeting that an “absolute fortune” had been spent on ensuring that 16-24-year-olds without it were provided with the internet access and digital kit - such as laptops or tablets t- needed to help them apply for jobs and access support online. That money has come from the DWP’s flexible support fund, which is intended for such purposes.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked the department exactly how much had been spent on enabling digital access for young people in Lancashire, but was told that the figure would have to be sought via a Freedom of Information request.
Committee member Nicki Hennessy welcomed the new approach offered by the county’s youth hubs, but questioned whether employers were willing to employ the youngest new recruits only because “it’s cheaper to take on a 16-year-old than a 24-year-old”.
YOUTH HUB OPENING TIMES
Accrington (Town Hall): Mon to Fri, 9.15am – 4.30pm
Burnley (Calico offices, Croft Street): Mon to Fri, 9.30am – 4.30pm
Chorley (Youth Zone): Mon, Tue, Wed and Fri, 10am – 3pm
Lancaster & Morecambe (Lancaster and Morecambe College): Mon to Friday 10am – 5pm
Leyland (Civic Centre): Mon, Weds, Thurs and Fri, 10am-5pm
Preston (Preston College): Mon to Fri, 10am – 4pm
Nelson (Scotland Road): Mon to Fri, 9am – 3:30pm
Rawtenstall (Futures Park, Bacup): Tues to Fri, 10 – 3pm