by Carolyn Kagan
Is there a different way of creating jobs?
There is no doubt about it, COVID-19 has forced us to rethink not only what, and who, we value most but the purpose, nature and impact of work and worklessness on the kind of society we want to see. Poll after poll reports that the British public do not want more of the same in the post COVID (if there ever is a post COVID) future. The Government’s response to the virus, especially in terms of the consequences for the economy and for people in and out of work, has thrown up even more challenges than usual as we head for levels of unemployment not seen in recent years. Young people are particularly vulnerable to the long term consequences of worklessness along with the dwindling opportunities for meaningful employment. This is one reason why 12 charities concerned with young people have called for a National Youth Corps1. At the heart of this proposal is the idea:
to guarantee at least the minimum wage in a wide variety of work and training opportunities for all those between 16 and 25 who apply. It should extend until the end of 2021. Via the Youth Corps, the government will in effect be offering the guarantee of work to our young people at a pivotal moment in their lives. The Youth Corps should be sufficiently flexible to allow employers (and institutions) to offer a top-up wage for particular skills if they choose. A core part of the plan is to involve young people at a senior level at all stages of the design and implementation and ongoing management.
… British-based employers should pledge a range of job offers depending on their financial circumstances, with the option to opt out if in significant economic difficulty.
… Third sector organisations that specialise in working with young people will be eligible for tailored investment to enable them to build capacity to participate in the programme.
The proposal is, then, for a job (and income) guarantee to young people. The request was for the implementation of the scheme before the end of the school, college and university year.
Well, this hasn’t happened. Instead we have a Plan for Jobs2, wherein, amongst the support for employers to train young people themselves,
The new scheme will see employers able to offer six-month work placements, paid for by the Government, for people aged between 16-24 who are claiming Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment.
The Treasury will cover 100% of the National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, with employers able to top up this wage.
All this with the aim of creating jobs with action to get the property market moving, to increase and bring forward infrastructure investment, and to make homes greener, warmer and cheaper to heat.3 This doesn’t sound much like a blueprint for moving forward differently!
Both the proposal for the National Youth Corps and the Government have failed to see the potential in communities for creating jobs of social worth, securing income and employment whilst at the same time building community.
An alternative approach: the participatory economy.
Two examples of community based, participatory economy frameworks show the potential of a community focus. These are the Organisation Workshop and Civic Economy approaches. These are locally based and have, at their heart, participation, enterprise development and community building. Both explore community needs: organisation workshop via community asset scans and civic economy via the people’s interests who come forward to be involved. Both have supports for people who wish to develop enterprises that lead to employment: organisation workshop via workshop learning following a curriculum that includes the nature of organisations and employment regulations, such as health and safety and civic economy via workshops that address support and learning needs as they arise. Organisation workshop4 aims to fulfil community needs; civic economies5 enhance the potential of local resources for development, building on people’s talents.
In Marsh Farm Luton, the Organisation Workshop evaluation6 reported a number of new enterprises had been set up, building on participants’ skill s and interests, including : bee-keeping, a community farm, a building co-operative, a catering business, music related and IT services. It was estimated that the monetary value of the social projects achieved was £1,300,000, which is substantial. The Organisation Workshop has also been tried in Hastings7, where 60 people were involved in transforming the former Observer building as the first step to creating community enterprises.
In Barking and Dagenham, participatory City’s Every One Every Day8 project has focused on bringing people together to explore ideas for project developments and to link people together around project clusters, supported by shop fronts across the Borough and an business incubation space. Literally thousands have been involved across the Borough -, with 70 project clusters formed after 2 years, based in 38 locations across the Borough.
Both projects are too new to see if the enterprises and work opportunities have longevity, or whether the community building has knock on effects, increasing solidarity and well-being. However, they both represent creative and innovative examples of a different way forward, not replacing other National employment innovations, but supplementing them, with the promise of a different future. Both the projects discussed above had financial support, and this is just the kind of thing that Regional or Local Governments, whichever is charged with the youth training funds could promote and support, and give young people not only some hope for the future, but also a belief in their own capacity to contribute to a better, more resilient world.
For a fuller discussion of these and other linked approaches see the following:
8http://www.participatorycity.org/made-to-measure-1 for Year 1 evaluation; http://www.participatorycity.org/tools-to-act for Year 2 evaluation