New employment minister insists LEP scheme is still on track

EXCLUSIVE

The new employment minister has admitted employers could cherry-pick the best candidates when recruiting during the recession rather than use the government’s flagship long-term unemployment scheme.

However, Jim Knight insisted the government was still on track to meet its original target of creating 250,000 jobs through Local Employment Partnerships (LEPs) by April 2010.

Knight told Personnel Today: “At a time of recession, the temptation for employers is to take people who have just come on to the job market rather than investing in these partnerships.”

But he added LEP schemes, introduced to help those out of work for more than 12 months find a job, remained popular among employers. “Clearly what we have got is working,” he said. “We are on target at the moment. In fact, I think we are slightly ahead of schedule.”

To date, 150,000 jobs have been created through LEPs – exceeding this year’s milestone of 100,000 by April. In July last year, only 12,000 of the long-term unemployed had found work through LEPs.

Knight added the government was focused on encouraging the use of LEPs in growth industries including hospitality, retail and care, and was particularly keen to look at how LEPs could be used in other industries such as the creative and digital sectors and among the future green-collar jobs.

Speaking at the Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism Breakfast, hosted by skills council People 1st and Jobcentre Plus, Knight urged employers to continue taking advantage of LEPs and other government measures including apprenticeship schemes, work trials and pre-employment training.

“We need employers to work with us to stimulate recruitment, to develop apprenticeship schemes, and by offering that first chance to really change people’s lives,” he said.

“We must ensure that we build the right training and skills packages today so that people are ready to take up the jobs of tomorrow. And the only way to do that is to make this partnership [between employers and the government] really work.”

Michelle Luxford, HR director of Travelodge, who last year initiated the ‘Going Forward’ pre-employment training scheme with the Jobcentre Plus, told delegates the project had helped recruit 57 young people and had improved retention rates at the company by 8%.

She said: “This was a way of widening our talent pool and getting higher retention figures, and I think that’s something worth going for.”

Jez Langorn, head of talent and education at McDonald’s, added since the launch of LEPs at the fast-food retailer in March this year, 300 people were either on the scheme or have been through it, and 50 people have been hired.

Earlier this year, former work and pensions secretary James Purnell called on employers to hire a further 200,000 jobless this year through the LEP programme. This figure was in addition to the original target set two years ago of 250,000 LEP placements by April next year.

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