The other side of the poverty issue: employability.

Feb 14, 2017 | Articles, Assembly Business, Assembly Issues | 0 comments

Plenary Tuesday 14 February 2017


the other side of the poverty issue, which is what Dawn Bowden alluded to: employability.

Spoken Contribution -15:48:00

Thanks, Minister, for your statement today. A lot of the discussion today has been about Communities First; well, that scheme is now going, so we do have to ensure that any kind of programme that replaces it is going to be effective, but, mainly, today, I wanted to talk about the other side of the poverty issue, which is what Dawn Bowden alluded to: employability.

Now, you’ve previously stated, Minister, that in-work poverty is a growing problem and, in fact, the Welsh Government identified this issue when they brought out their report on building resilient communities in 2013. One thing the Government can do is to try to attract more jobs, and, hopefully, better quality jobs. Now, I know that your Government is mindful of this aspect, because your economy Minister, Ken Skates, came to the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee last week, and he was talking about this issue, and he said it’s not just any work, it’s quality of work, that matters, and I think that that is important to bear in mind. But we are up against a number of problems in this regard. In the same week as Ken Skates’s remarks, we also had the First Minister, as I mentioned earlier today in First Minister’s questions—he informed us that the Welsh Revenue Authority was coming to Treforest, but that nearly all of the jobs were going to be taken up by people recruited in the London area. Now, I appreciate that we haven’t known forever about the Welsh Revenue Authority, but we’ve known about it for some time, so I do still wonder as to—[Interruption.] Well, it’s been mooted for some time, let’s put it that way. I do wonder why, in these situations, Welsh people can’t be trained up to fill these roles.

I don’t want to focus particularly on that, but I just want to highlight the issue of training and upskilling people. The Welsh Government is now looking to take over responsibility for procurement in order to use this as a lever of job creation. We do have some major infrastructure projects in the pipeline such as the south Wales metro and the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. But the possible outcome here is that we won’t have the skilled people in Wales and we will have to again import them. So, we may not be creating jobs for the local community at all, or, at least, not many. We could, in fact, be putting more pressure on housing supply for locals and thus inadvertently exacerbating problems associated with poverty. I know that there is a Government employability programme for upskilling, overseen by Julie James, which is touched on in your statement, but, to repeat what I said earlier to the First Minister, one does wonder what the Government has been doing about upskilling over the last 17 years, because this is not a new issue, clearly. You would know more about that than I, so, if you could enlighten me, I would be grateful.

We are also faced with other problems regarding the employment market in the shape of automation, which Lee Waters has alluded to several times. Jenny Rathbone asked last week, ‘Who will benefit from it?’ Well, it certainly won’t be the relatively low-skilled workers. So, this exacerbates the problem of upskilling. What practical things can be done to improve employability? Well, Ken Skates talked last week about using what he called ‘labour-market intelligence’ in designing apprenticeships. We do need all-age apprenticeships now, which I believe is part of the programme of employability. We do need them, because the employment market has become so fluid and there are no jobs for life now. We do, perhaps, need greater Government interaction with private industry, as the public sector is likely to contract.

Transport, I would say, is a major issue. Many new jobs are created in industrial areas on the edge of towns, often without public transport, and, of course, a lot of it is shift work. How will workers get to their workplace without a car? So, can the Welsh Government liaise effectively with transport providers? Most workers will have to work initially through employment agencies. Many of these agencies are not very good, in my experience, in communicating effectively with their workers. Often, management is poor in these agency jobs. Does the Welsh Government have any plans to work with these agencies in future? What are your plans for working with transport providers, and what are your plans for working with private industry? Thank you.