|YMCA England statement on mandatory work activity|
The YMCA has a federated structure, which means that every local YMCA is an autonomous charity, independently run and managed. YMCA England is not a head office and therefore cannot speak or act on behalf of the whole federation on this issue. Different YMCAs may take different stances, but here we outline YMCA England’s position.
“At the YMCA, although our primary focus is on supporting young people, we work with people from all backgrounds and at all stages of life, offering supported accommodation, skills and training plus a range of health, wellbeing and physical activity services.
As such, we understand the challenges and barriers that individuals can face, whether it is finding a place to live, accessing education, gaining qualifications or securing essential work experience.
Much of our work is focused on helping individuals acquire the skills they need to succeed in an ever more challenging job market. And to this end, the YMCA enables nearly 24,000 people to engage in education, skills and training every year.
In recent weeks and months, there has been a lot of discussion around the role of mandatory work activity and other Work Programme schemes and we are keen to clarify our position on this opinion-dividing issue.
Firstly, we would like to make it clear that YMCA England has no national contract or agreement with the Department of Work and Pensions and does not receive any payment in exchange for work placements.
However, some local YMCAs, which are independent charities, and some YMCA England retail shops do take on people on Mandatory Work Activity placements. While the organisation benefits from the individual’s time, skills and contribution, the aim in return is to give the participant an equally beneficial and positive experience.
For some it might be their first experience of a work environment, for others – dependent on their previous employment history – it might be about acquiring new skills in a different sector or an up-to-date reference for those aiming to get back into work.
In recent weeks, we have listened to the concerns raised, but we have also heard positive stories from people for whom involvement in the schemes has been valuable and even life-changing.
In several cases, we have heard individuals securing paid employment (either with their local YMCA or an independent employer) which they attribute directly to the skills and confidence they gained through their placement.
Reports and media stories of people having bad experiences through these schemes are undoubtedly a cause for concern, especially when the aim of the scheme is meant to be beneficial. As a result these cases need to be taken seriously and properly investigated.
However, at a time when we know that many are struggling to find employment, we also find it difficult to condemn any scheme which carries potential to help individuals gain new skills or prepare for future employment.
Rather than taking a sweeping stance against all forms of mandatory work placements, we therefore believe that the key to such schemes being successful is ensuring that placements are properly managed and taking appropriate action if they are not.
If an individual is required to complete a mandatory placement, then we believe that they should still be offered a choice about where the placement is undertaken and if at all possible, the placement should reflect their personal interests or skills. In cases where we know of this happening, individuals have reported gaining more from the placement as a result. Participants should also be given the correct levels of support and skills training, to enable them to get the most out of the experience.
Those with disabilities and illnesses which leave them unable to work should not be placed onto the programme. This is the responsibility of the Government and the paid contractors and providers, as well as the organisations taking on placements, to ensure that only those genuinely fit for work take part.
Ultimately, the focus should always be on providing the individual with quality training opportunities and the best possible chance of going onto further training or employment in the future.
If anyone has taken part in a placement with the YMCA, then we would be very interested to hear your feedback, as we will continue to keep our involvement in these types of schemes under review."
Jay came to the YMCA on a mandatory work placement, having been made redundant from his job in hotel hospitality, which had severely knocked his confidence.
“Having worked from the age of 14, being made redundant from my job in hospitality hit me really hard. I hated being out of work and my confidence was at an all time low. When the person at the job centre explained about mandatory work experience, I jumped at the chance. They asked about my interests and listened when I said I was keen to gain experience in retail, as it feels much more secure than the hospitality sector. I was offered a couple of options, but I chose the YMCA because I had received help from them when I was younger. I knew the value of the work that they do and wanted to give something back.
Before the placement I had thought about looking for a job in retail but felt that employers wouldn’t give me a second look as I didn’t have the right experience. From day one, the team at the YMCA were so, so supportive. They welcomed me into the store and really took time to learn more about me. I took on responsibility for window dressing and absolutely loved it. Right from the start I could feel my confidence soar. After completing my original placement, I decided to stay on as a volunteer. After four weeks volunteering, the paid position of Assistant Manager became available, due to staff absence. After initially taking on the role on a temporary basis, I was then made permanent, and have now been in the role for two months.
I am currently undertaking my NVQ in Retail Management, which the YMCA is paying for. That was another opportunity that I would never have known about without the placement and the team believing enough in me to put me forward. In my manager role, I now help to train others, including those on placements. I have already seen the first two move on. One has gone straight into full time employment, and the other is still job hunting, but seems far more positive about the future than when we first met. I have experience and qualifications which I wouldn’t have otherwise had, but I also know that others believe in me – and more importantly, I have belief in myself.”