Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig

Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Hefin David
Luke Fletcher
Paul Davies Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Samuel Kurtz
Sarah Murphy
Vikki Howells

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Dr Barry Walters Coleg Sir Benfro a'r Grŵp Strategol Dysgu Seiliedig ar Waith
Pembrokeshire College and Strategic Work Based Learning Group
John Graystone Sefydliad Dysgu a Gwaith
Learning and Work Institute
Kay Smith Sefydliad Dysgu a Gwaith
Learning and Work Institute
Lisa Mytton Ffederasiwn Hyfforddiant Cenedlaethol Cymru
National Training Federation for Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Elfyn Henderson Ymchwilydd
Gruffydd Owen Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Joseph Thurgate Ymchwilydd
Katie Wyatt Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Katy Orford Ymchwilydd
Lara Date Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Masudah Ali Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Robert Donovan Clerc
Rosemary Hill Ymchwilydd
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:28.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:28.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Croeso, bawb, i'r cyfarfod hwn o Bwyllgor Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig y Senedd. Mae Sarah Murphy wedi ymddiheuro ar gyfer eitemau 1 i 3, ond bydd Sarah yn ymuno â ni o bell ar ôl 10:30. A oes yna unrhyw fuddiannau yr hoffai Aelodau eu datgan o gwbl? Nac oes. 

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee at the Senedd. Sarah Murphy has had to send apologies for items 1 to 3, but Sarah will be joining us remotely after 10:30. Do any Members have any interests to declare? I see that they don't. 

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Paper(s) to note

Symudwn ni ymlaen i eitem 2, sef papurau i'w nodi. Mae yna un papur i'w nodi. A oes yna unrhyw faterion yn codi o'r papur yma o gwbl? Nac oes. 

We'll move on to item 2, the papers to note. There's one paper to note. Are there any issues emanating from this paper at all? No. 

3. Pwysau costau byw a'r Warant i Bobl Ifanc
3. Cost of living pressures and the Young Person’s Guarantee

Symudwn ni ymlaen i eitem 3, sef pwysau costau byw a'r warant i bobl ifanc. Heddiw, rŷm ni'n cynnal sesiwn dystiolaeth ddilynol i barhau â gwaith blaenorol y pwyllgor ar bwysau costau byw. Yn benodol, byddwn ni'n trafod sut mae pwysau costau byw yn effeithio ar y warant i bobl ifanc, a'r gefnogaeth mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn ei rhoi i bobl ifanc. A gaf i felly groesawu'r tystion i'r sesiwn yma? Cyn ein bod ni yn symud yn syth i gwestiynau, efallai gallaf ofyn iddyn nhw gyflwyno eu hunain ar gyfer y record. A gaf i ddechrau gyda John Graystone? 

We'll move on to item 3, namely cost-of-living pressures and the young person's guarantee. Today, we are taking evidence in a follow-up session on the committee's previous work on cost-of-living pressures. Specifically, we'll be considering how the cost-of-living pressures are affecting the young person's guarantee, and the support that the Welsh Government provides to young people. Could I therefore welcome the witnesses to the session? Before we move to questions, could I ask them to introduce themselves for the record? Maybe I'll start with John Graystone.

Thank you very much indeed. Diolch yn fawr. My name is John Graystone. I'm the interim director for Wales for the Learning and Work Institute. I'm very pleased to be here today. 

Diolch. Thank you. I'm Lisa Mytton, I'm the strategic director for the National Training Federation for Wales. It's nice to be here. 

Bore da a diolch am y gwahoddiad i ddod yma bore yma. 

Good morning and thank you for the invitation to join you this morning. 

Barry Walters, principal, Pembrokeshire College. 

Good morning, all. It's nice to be with you this morning. I'm Kay Smith. I'm head of campaigns and development at the Learning and Work Institute.


Thank you very much indeed for those introductions. Thank you for being with us here this morning. Perhaps I can just kick off this session with a few questions. Perhaps you could tell us as a committee what are the particular ways in which the cost-of-living pressures are affecting the young people that you actually work with, particularly those on programmes relating to the young person's guarantee. Who'd like to kick off with that? Barry, would you like to kick off with that?

Certainly. For those involved in our work-based learning programmes, which are Jobs Growth Wales and apprenticeships, I think one of the hardest-hitting things is the increased cost of transport, and food—as basic as that. Obviously, transport is important, and if I take it from a Pembrokeshire College perspective, rather than a consortium perspective, we're a very rural area, transport is an issue regardless, so increasing costs are certainly going to have a debilitating effect.

One of the things that we've done as a consortium is, in the FE sector, we have a financial contingency fund, which supports student hardship. We recognised when we set up our consortium originally that we needed to have something equivalent in the work-based learning and Jobs Growth Wales sector. As a consortium, we top-slice all the allocations to every member, and it goes into what we call a deprivation fund. Over the last two to three years, that pot hasn't been fully utilised, but what we've found, certainly over the last 12 months, is that there's been a massive increase in the call on that funding, based on the kinds of issues that we've highlighted already.

And how has that affected your ability to deliver some of the programmes that you need to deliver?

The cost of living probably affects us in a different way in terms of delivery, and that's probably more in relation to retention of skilled staff. I know, as I happen to have looked it up for other reasons, that, last year—again, I'm referring to Pembrokeshire College and not the B-wbl Consortium—we had a 15 per cent turnover of staff involved in the delivery of these programmes. So, it is a problem, and it becomes more of a problem when you recognise the priority areas are such areas as engineering, and trying to recruit and retain in those areas can be a challenge.

Just a couple of points. Firstly, it might be worth saying that, obviously, the increase in the cost of living is relatively new. Two years ago, we almost had zero inflation. So, I think the implications are only just starting to manifest. But a few points: the Youth Futures Foundation said that the cost-of-living crisis risks locking young people out of the labour market, and long-term unemployment for 18 to 20-year-olds is actually higher than before the pandemic. I think there's a risk of being locked into a cycle of low-quality work, unemployment, with an impact on mental health, and so on. There was some work a few years ago by someone called Paul Gregg, actually for the UK Government, which talked about youth unemployment having a scarring effect—that when you start off transitioning to unemployment, low-quality work, and so on, it's very difficult to get out of it; it stays almost for the rest of your life, so the rest of your life is almost geared up into that issue. So, I think it's very important to address the concerns of young people, so they get off to a good start. If you look at those not in education, employment or training at the moment, I think, looking at my figures, around about 16 per cent of males and females aged between 16 and 24 are not in employment, education or training at the moment. Those young people then run the risk of being scarred for the rest of their lives, so we need to really invest very heavily in that. So, those are really some opening remarks. I must say, I welcome the committee's work on this, and I think we need to do a lot more work to investigate what the long-term consequences could well be.

Thank you. We don't directly work with young people, but last night, I asked and I got feedback from young people on a Youth Shedz project, which runs across north Wales. They're young people aged 17 to 20. They were there as part of their normal Youth Shedz activity. It provides a safe space for them to develop positive relationships and learn new skills. But they talked, at the end of their session, about the impact of the cost of living and how they were feeling about it. Some of that feedback is really interesting, because they reported seeing an impact on their family, on their parents and an impact on family morale, parents' mental health, being worried to use essential electrical items at home for fear of causing arguments. The majority reported skipping meals, all of them reported, as we've just heard, finding the financial costs of college becoming more difficult, the cost of food on site, and transport to get there, and living on the current college education maintenance allowance was proving difficult for them. One reported her mum only getting a third of the usual shopping, and that's for a family of six; and another getting quite emotional because she was putting a brave face on at school, because she was hiding the stress and the hardship at home. So, I think there was some really interesting feedback there from young people, who obviously are feeling the impact of that, but what they point to as well is wider issues around family and mental health within the family.


Thank you for that. Sam, you'd like to come in on this.

Nothing specific. It was just answered by Barry in his subsequent answer. So, nothing specific, thank you, Chair.

Okay. Thanks. And in your view, which key concerns regarding the long-term impact of the cost-of-living pressures on young people should the Welsh Government focus on now? Lisa.

Thank you. I think, inevitably, what we do need to focus on when we're talking about young people within this age category, whether they're in Jobs Growth Wales+, going on to apprenticeships, et cetera, but specifically around Jobs Growth Wales+ and those who are classed as NEET, is considering an increase in the actual training allowance that these young people are able to access, because I think, inevitably, that has a massive impact on their choices. Whether they're going to go into other forms of employment, which aren't then fully supported as far as training and education is concerned, and upskilling them as well, that could be a choice that they make other than going into a Jobs Growth Wales+ programme, under the young person's guarantee, because the training allowance just wouldn't allow them to fully function and help them with the cost-of-living pressures and increases as well. And that hasn't changed for a number of years, so, Chair, I think that is something that perhaps Welsh Government could consider looking at to support the young people.

Would anybody else like to come in on that? Barry.

I'd agree with that, Lisa. Thirty pounds a week is not an awful lot to live off in the current climate, by any stretch of imagination. I was talking to a young person on the Jobs Growth Wales programme earlier in the year, and he said to me, 'I'm leaving'. I said, 'Are you sure you're doing the right thing?', and he said, 'I'm earning £10 an hour carrying bricks for somebody'. And I said to him, 'Well, that's all well and good, but if that kind of work doesn't improve and lead you on to a higher level skills development, possibly the opportunity of an apprenticeship, you could be doing that for an awful long time, so come back and talk to me in 12 months' time, if you think that you're doing the right thing'. I think people are making choices based on what's available to them now, and income is important to them now. So, yes, I would agree. I think if we can give further consideration to the training allowance—. I'm not asking for £10 an hour, that's completely unrealistic, and I acknowledge that, but it could make a difference to a young person thinking, 'Well, I will stay and I will persevere with this rather than going out and earning money', but not developing themselves or their skill set to progress into better jobs and careers.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. In fact, a lot of what I was going to ask around was just literally addressed by Barry. I've been doing some work with Bridgend College around the educational maintenance allowance, and some of the stories that we were getting from students—. For example, one student was spending the entire £30 a week just to get to college, and that's not even considering the food or the resources that they would need, actually, to do their course as well. The challenge I think that we're facing as well is exactly what Barry said in terms of people deciding, for financial reasons, to come out of education because they simply can't afford to be there. I suppose there would be a question around how we actually deal with that. One thing that we've been asking for in this Senedd, though—a number of us—is increasing the EMA payments, as well as extending them as well to those who are just outside of the threshold. Is that something that you would support? I suppose I know the answer already, but, just to get it on record, and I'd be interested in your thoughts as well on education maintenance allowance.


Just quickly, I'd like to respond. I think that the level of £30 hasn't changed for I don't know how many years, but—

Since 2004. It was the same in 2004 as it is now. It was the same when I was receiving it as it is now.

Yes, so the real value has dropped considerably. There's a very powerful argument, I think, to increase it, because £30 now is quite a small amount, and it's very restrictive. It's either £30 or nothing, isn't it? If you suddenly earn above a certain threshold, it goes down to zero. So, I think the Welsh Government needs to look at that again. I know the Minister has argued that at the moment they can't actually do that, but I would hope that the committee may want to—. I think you're going to write a letter or something after this; you may want to draw attention to that. I think it could now—. I think with the cost-of-living crisis as well, with inflation being 10 per cent, on a daily basis that £30 is becoming of less and less value, so I think it would be very important to do that.

Okay, thank you. I'll now bring in Vikki Howells. Vikki.

Thank you, Chair. Before I ask my own set of questions, just on that point in relation to EMA, clearly the budgetary pressures anticipated on the Welsh Government are immense moving forward, so I just wanted to ask the witnesses if there are any areas within this existing budget strand where they believe that cuts could be responsibly made, if we were to suggest an increase to EMA.

I'll come in. Undoubtedly, Vikki, if I'm completely honest with you, there are financial pressures across the network—so, I'm talking on behalf of work-based learning providers, independent providers. If I was to put it in this context that the additional support and resource that we're now giving young people post COVID is putting immense financial pressure on ourselves, I wouldn't be able to say that across the board from the FE sector and the independent training provider sector that we would be able to find that. Whether within Welsh Government portfolios—. I know that we spoke to the Minister recently and we're all aware of the financial pressures, but it's a difficult one to answer, really, without having the evidence to support it of where that money could actually be moved around or cuts actually take place without it affecting young people. And I think, going back to Luke's point about it being since 2004, I think it was, without being too crude, I completely appreciate the financial pressures, but the Welsh Government has this employability flagship programme, and unless we do something to support young people, they're going to choose part-time jobs with little training and little prospects in comparison to getting something where they really could become great citizens for us for the future and improve and support our economic objectives as well. So, it's not a direct answer—apologies—but it's just a difficult one, really, to nail down.

Okay, thank you. So, I wanted to ask some questions around the young person's guarantee in general. My first question, I think witnesses have covered this to some extent already, but I'll ask it anyway in case there are other things that people want to add. To what extent do you think that the programmes that form part of the young person's guarantee are meeting their objectives in terms of supporting young people who are not in education, employment or training?

Yes, I'm happy to come in again. Sorry, I'm just looking at my colleagues, so I don't jump in—

No, that's all right; we'll take it in turns.

Yes, we'll take it in turns, yes. I think that it does. I think that providers do a fantastic job in supporting those within, say, the 16 to 18 category who come to us who are NEET. Whether there were barriers within the standard education system, or whether that failed them in whatever form, a lot of resource and support is put in to really turn them around and give them that vocational experience, because, for them, perhaps, the academic route just wasn't for them. So, the vocational route, whether that be under Jobs Growth Wales+ or going on to an apprenticeship, or then doing that transition from Jobs Growth Wales+ on to an apprenticeship, does prove successful, and I know the training provider network is successful in doing that. I think that, inevitably, it's just looking at what we can do more to support not only the provider network but those young people as well. But I think, certainly, if you were to look at data, the outcomes are very positive for those young people, but it's just making sure that they come on board and don't take the other routes, I guess. 


Yes, just a couple of points. Firstly, I think it's a very ambitious programme, and I think we fully support the approach. In terms of where we go with it, I think it would be very useful and interesting to follow up what happens to the young people who have been on the guarantee, whether they progress, what they've learned from that, and I think, hearing what Kay was saying, get feedback from young people all the time about how they're doing. I think what Kay was saying was very interesting about the feedback she got from speaking to young people. I think we need to listen more to young people on the programmes and get feedback from them. I also feel schools need to be more involved. I'm not sure how much teachers are familiar with the youth guarantee and how involved they are. I think there's still a risk with schools of going down the academic route and giving less interest to apprenticeships and other programmes. So, I think that's something worth looking at. I think also the response of the careers service—which I think has been very good, but again are they always fully up to date and up to speed with all the developments with the youth guarantee? So, I think those are the general points. But I think the investment in high-quality vocational education is probably the best thing you can do for young people in this group. So, I would certainly support that as an approach.   

Yes, I think programmes like Jobs Growth Wales are really, really important. They're not a catch-all; we know that. Just picking up on John's point about schools and at what age do the problems start, when people start to get disengaged, I think Jobs Growth Wales picks up at 16. So, we've had some initiatives locally, in Pembrokeshire—I think the first one was funded through the Community Chest fund, or whatever, and a small number of learners—. I think there were about 20 learners disengaged from school, so we offered 20 places, funded through that particular pot, and 14 learners engaged and 13 progressed to college. So, we carried on with this in 2021. We offered 41 places, 36 learners engaged, and 33 remained in education following that. And last year, we offered 57 places, 43 engaged and 40 progressed. So, you've got to catch them pre 16. So, we're making moves locally to do that, and there's great support from our local county council in enabling that progress. And what we need to do is to bring that into our Jobs Growth Wales approach, because in essence what we're setting up here is a pre-engagement programme. We actually call them PEPs, pre-engagement programmes, and it is about targeting these people before they become NEETs and they become even harder to reach. And I have to say, from my perspective, my team are telling me that the Jobs Growth Wales team and the officials are very receptive to thoughts and ideas, and I think it has been put to them that a PEP-type programme, coming in at a level below engagement—. It's just trying to get a hook into these people, to drag them in and see what's their interest. You can direct them into job-focused activity later down the line, but what you can't do is leave them isolated.

I think Hefin David would like to come in on this point. Hefin.  

Yes, please. I'd just like to reflect on what was just said, and, having had conversations across the further education sector, some of the frustrations the further education sector has—and this is no criticism of schools, but this seems to be the reality—is that the landscape is quite fragmented, and the further education sector find it very difficult to access pupils and students in years 7 to 11 because they are in a different educational environment. And that fragmentation creates barriers that prevent easy access to those young people. Can I ask the panel to reflect on that and perhaps suggest what may be done to try and resolve that as an issue?


Yes, I'm happy to reflect on that, Chair. I think, just on Monday this week, I was at the Cardiff capital region launch of the regional skills partnerships skills plan and the skills plans for all four regions are being launched now within the next couple of days and weeks. And they focus on collaboration from us all: so, for myself—NTFW—for the provider network, Colleges Wales et cetera, it is about collaboration. And critical within those skills plans and within our own strategies is working with Careers Wales and working fundamentally with the schools so that we capture that year 6, year 7 cohort, the transition going into secondary education, and then, of course, those year 9, year 10 career choices. There is undoubtedly a gap of information there.

So, the people who we really need to collaborate with are those teachers, because they are seen as the mentors to those young people, and, more often than not, we find that, because it's comfortable, they tend to focus on those who are going to go down the academic route and choose that, whereas vocational routes and availability and also the offers—we're talking about degree apprenticeships now as well and also through the Jobs Growth Wales, so, for those where they need to come in at perhaps a level 1, a level 2 prep, as Barry alluded to as well—. It's about engaging and getting that through to the teachers and making sure that we have that collaboration within education as well.

Can I just follow up on that? Can you account for the reason for that gap of information—why does that gap exist?

So, I think, historically—. Forgive me, I was a former cabinet member for education for Merthyr Tydfil, so I've been working on this for a while. So, I think, historically, what you had is you had the old sense of a careers person within the secondary school. So, a young person would know that they could be signposted to them—the days when I was in school—to look at our career choices. Now it's down and left to the teachers and it's really about us collaborating together and actually supporting that gap of skills and expertise and understanding really what offers are out there—just what vocational qualifications can do for you.

We've just had a fantastic WorldSkills event in Wales, and the calibre of young people who have come through apprenticeship programmes there and Jobs Growth Wales programmes there, who are now doing fantastic things worldwide, globally—we need to share that with the schools. And I know that Aspire 2Be programmes are doing that—they're doing taster sessions with schools—so that we are slowly getting through there. But, certainly, Hefin, more needs to be done and this is forming part of the skills plans, and I know that Mark Owen from Careers Wales was present on Monday and he agrees that more—. We can't just leave it to Careers Wales, in fairness; it has to be that collaboration and leading on then to the information that Working Wales is providing as well.

Could I—?

Just one quick comment on schools. Welsh Government data that's come out, published recently, showed that, in one week in October, there were 59,000 school sessions missed. And in fact, since September, school attendance has been about 91.6 per cent, so almost 10 per cent of pupils are missing lessons and they're the ones who are going to be, in a sense, in a few years' time, picked up by the youth guarantee. So, there needs to be—. We need to start much earlier than 16. We need to have much more integration between schools, colleges, work-based learning providers, to address some of these issues, which we're building up. And I think the cost-of-living crisis could make those figures even worse. Some of those may be dropping out to do other things—to earn money or whatever. So, I think it is a huge challenge for the Welsh Government and for the education system.

I was going to say that you've identified a supply side issue with the pupils not attending school, but the bigger issue, I think, is the fact that there's that lack of co-ordination below the age of 15—11 to 15 or even younger. Would you agree that that is a bigger problem than attendance?

No, I think attendance is a huge problem, because, if you're not attending constantly, you're losing out in many ways, but integration I think is also a very important part and we're getting parts of the sector working together collaboratively. And I think the trouble is that, in some areas, in some parts of Wales, there's still a competitive element between parts of the education system, which we haven't really ever completely addressed. In some parts, that's been solved, but I'd agree; I would say both are challenges, rather than one being more than the other.

Yes, please, Chair. I'll turn to the digital challenge now. So, the pandemic obviously led to an increase in the use of digital spaces to deliver some training and skills programmes and we understand that a lot of that is still ongoing. So, I wanted to ask the panel what effect do you think this has had on both the efficacy and accessibility of the programmes in the young person’s guarantee, in light of the cost-of-living pressures, and whether they had found any evidence that there were any groups that were harder to reach and engage with following the pandemic, possibly as a result of this.


Okay. I think, generally, digital communication has helped hugely, especially those suffering from severe anxiety, and we know that the numbers in that category have increased significantly over the last two, three years. And although there are issues remaining in terms of accessibility, capability and connectivity, they are improving, but it isn't 100 per cent perfect at the moment.

I do think it does play an important part in engaging people who are disengaged. And even at apprenticeship level, many of our apprentices come in for day release—or afternoon, evening, or whatever—but a lot of them don't, and then they're finding that perhaps they've got to come in for a skills session, which is part of the framework. So, the digital side of things has helped enormously with that, reducing the need to travel, reducing the cost of travel.

One thing I would say on this, in our consortium, and certainly in our own college from an FE perspective, we've heavily utilised a platform called Togetherall, which is all about mental health and well-being, and it provides online well-being sessions and counselling facilities, and that is completely digital 24/7, and it has certainly helped some young people in terms of their mental health and well-being.

Can I just ask Barry a quick follow-up question on that?

So, you haven't found that there were any students who were excluded from digital delivery because they haven't got access to a laptop or to internet at home?

You're absolutely right, and we picked up on that quite quickly. So, ultimately, we were just issuing bits of kit to students, and then we realised we hadn't really solved the problem, because there were connectivity issues, so we then started issuing dongles, just to help people access the  internet. It hasn't been perfect, and even during lockdown, we allowed people to come in if they had no connectivity, no access. They could come in and we did have a small number who were actually doing that.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Vikki picked up on one of my points in terms of access for people, particularly those in low-income households not having the kit or connectivity. But if I come back to Bridgend College for a moment—you might be able to guess where I'm from, as I keep going back to Bridgend College. [Laughter.] One thing that we did pick up on a previous panel that I held there was—. It actually came from the people delivering the courses, and the concerns they had around students who were coming to the college from secondary school, specifically after the pandemic, who had missed out on a large portion of their own education because they weren't able to access the lessons that were being done virtually.

I was just wondering if that's something that the panel recognises across the board, and if there's anything that you think needs to be done to be able to address that, because, for example, on that very panel then, a student openly admitted that they really struggled to read and write because they'd had a year or two out of education as a result of not being able to connect to lessons. Barry.

You're absolutely right. Our experience wasn't much different to what you've just described. I think, partly due to the pandemic, what happened was that levels of maturity weren't reached, so the students coming in to us at 16, many of them are behaving like 14-year-olds because they haven't had that two-year period of social development; it had been taken away from them, in essence. And it did affect their ability to study, their ability to articulate their issues. So, yes, we made as much use as we could of additional funding to put additional hours in the timetable. We actually extended our college day from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m.—it doesn't sound a long day, but when you've got an hour and a half of travelling each side to come in on a college bus, it becomes a long day—but we extended the day, 9 a.m. till 5 p.m., and put additional hours into the curriculum. In reality, whilst it was a painful process for both staff and students, the results, the outcomes, suggest that it was the right thing to do.


You're got to understand, until a month ago, I was a governor at Bridgend College, so I recognise very well the scenario you've painted, but I think it's—. The college did get additional funding from Welsh Government and they invested very heavily in trying to bring those young people up to speed, but I think it is a challenge all around Wales. Many young people have missed out on almost two years of face-to-face education, and it has had, probably, a disproportionate effect on certain families who were already disadvantaged. So, it's actually made the gap bigger, so we have to try that much harder. And those will be the young people who soon will be picked up by the young person's guarantee, so it must be something we look at very seriously and we need to address.

Just very quickly, to echo what both of my colleagues have said. To take anything from it, the support that we had from Welsh Government, whether it was for schools, post-16 education, et cetera, in order to provide some digital resources to them was very much welcomed, but I think, inevitably, we're living with a bit of a tsunami now, post pandemic, where we have cohorts of learners coming through who are struggling. Because whilst we were able to provide them with some digital support and connectivity, as Barry alluded to, it wasn't that easy then to still engage with them, with the qualifications they were undertaking. But as a network, across the board, FE providers, et cetera, we've adapted as much as physically possible, extended achievement times to support learners, provided those additional resources, brought them in if we needed to, and a term that we use is what we call 'carryover' learners—so, they've perhaps passed their expected end date, but we're still continuing to support them to make sure that they're not disadvantaged in any way. Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Chair. One final question from me, this time on Jobs Growth Wales+, to ask the panel how well equipped they feel that programmes like Jobs Growth Wales+ are to reach the young people who are furthest from engagement and support for employability or training, especially, of course, given the increased pressures of the cost-of-living crisis upon those young people.

I'll go first. I think the programme is very much about engaging young people, but I've already alluded that the take-up on the programme has been affected significantly by cost-of-living pressures, no doubt about it. Just to clarify how much that's impacting on us, as a consortium, we've profiled up to about 600 Jobs Growth Wales learners at this point since the beginning of April, but we're at just around 200. So, there is a gap, and those are the people we were referring to earlier, about taking the opportunity to earn that money in the low-skilled but reasonably well-paid jobs in the short term.

Could I also add in terms—? It also follows on from the previous question about the impact of COVID, its impact on mental health. I think it's not only their education that has been suffering, but also their mental health. I should say I also sit on the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and that is an issue there. Well-being and mental health are now affecting many, many higher education students, and universities are investing huge sums of money in supporting that. I know colleges are, as well. So, I think one challenge for the youth guarantee is actually tackling the issue of mental health, and I'm not sure how equipped it is at the moment to deal with that and how many specialists they've got in that area, but that's certainly an area that needs a lot more consideration to be given to, because that's having major consequences for young people.

Again, just to add to that, within our sector, we have a Jobs Growth Wales operational board who meet with Welsh Government representatives, and I have to say they've been very supportive recently by providing some additional resources to ensure its success. But I think it goes back to engagement, so where we talked about teacher engagement, it goes back to engagement. And I think we need to look, really, at Working Wales and how effective, or not, as the case maybe, that is, really, in collaborating and, again, engaging with NTFW providers, FE, to really understand what provision is out there, because there is provision and availability out there, but we're just not seeing the numbers coming through. We tend to see that we're recruiting our own still, and I think that is vitally important that perhaps some work is done there. Because we used to have a Careers Wales website, which was very successful, whether it was young people, parents, et cetera, being able to access what availability was out there, and I think we're missing that now. So, maybe that is a piece of work to go back and explore.


Thank you. Just to add to that point at well, it's probably really important to ensure that the wider network of organisations that support young people are really aware of what's available through Working Wales and the youth guarantee, and that they play their role in signposting, advice and mentoring to move those young people in the directions that they want to go.

I think I'd just also highlight, really, just talking about those who might be most impacted through the cost-of-living crisis, that we do some work around looking at those young people who are most vulnerable, and two groups we've got work around are young adult carers and care leavers. So, I think it's mindful to be aware about how this programme is really working with those cohorts of learners. We know that they're three times more likely to not be in education or employment, or to drop out of college. So, it's really important that we put a focus on the support needed for those groups. And we also know, with young adult carers, that they're more likely to be living in households now more affected by the cost-of-living crisis, because they may be caring for parents who are housebound, who are not in work, so the impact on them is going to be particularly high, I think.

Something that we're interested in is the Welsh Government basic income pilot for care levers and, again, it will be interesting to see the results of that and the impact that that might have. But I think what we would advise with that pilot is that we really would like to see those providing that wraparound support associated with that pilot being really aware of what is available to transition people into supported employment, or into vocational learning apprenticeships, whatever the right route for them. It's really important that all of those providing that wraparound support are really aware of what's on offer.

Thank you, Vikki. I'm just conscious of time. We've got quite a few areas we want to cover, so if I can ask you to be as succinct as possible. And I'll bring in Luke Fletcher. Luke.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I think we've covered quite extensively which groups are particularly vulnerable and how that affects their ability to access skills and employability programmes—for example, we've talked about low-income households and young carers. But I'd be interested to know how able do you feel, as organisations and colleges, to engage with and support learners who are particularly vulnerable, especially now as we come into the cost-of-living crisis.

As a college, we've invested significantly in safeguarding, health and well-being teams. Certainly, we have our at-risk lists, and we monitor those young people very, very carefully, even to the point of, if we lose contact and we can't get hold of them, we've contacted neighbours, we've done things like that to try and re-establish contact; we've gone out to households. Yes, there are sectors of society who are very vulnerable at the moment and we're doing all we can with our teams, specialist teams, to support them. 

Thank you, Chair. I think, for me, it's also identifying perhaps access for our disabled learners as well, who are also classed as some of our most vulnerable. And I think, reflecting back on a question that Vikki asked, and I think it coincides with this, what we need to do—perhaps what Government needs to do—is reflect back and look at the deciles of the social depravation indices, and perhaps just think about where money went across FE, apprentices, Jobs Growth Wales, et cetera, when additional COVID support funding was actually given, and then perhaps just look at that, because, I think, inevitably, some of it may not have gone to the most disadvantaged learners or young people, and I think that's something we need to reflect on.

So, if we were to give additional support, if Welsh Government were to give additional support, maybe that is a really effective exercise to undertake firstly, to make sure, for any future additional support for the most vulnerable learners and those with disabilities as well, that it does go to the right place and the right people. So, I think that would be an important exercise to do. Again, trying to keep it short for Chair, but, yes, echoing what Barry just said, as far as we are providing more and more, especially around mental health as well, Luke; we are providing more and more additional support, and at our own cost, in fairness, because we realise that it's there and it's needed. 


Great. Thank you for that. I'd be interested to know if there's anything you think that Welsh Government could be doing better, essentially, to tackle some of those structural inequalities we've identified today, through its skills and employability programmes and the young person's guarantee? I don't know if, Lisa, you want to kick off.

Well, I think that it follows on from the point that I just made. I'm sure Ministers would not want the support that they're giving going to the wrong place. So, I think, just looking at, as I said, those indices, and being able to do that—you can easily do it via data, looking at a young person's address and location—and when we talk about some of those issues, such as rurality and where they actually are in Wales, and access to transport, as we referred to earlier on in the session, I think that would be an important starting point. So, then, any additional support—that's welcomed, by the way, from you guys, from Welsh Government—is placed to the right people and goes out to the right people: our most disadvantaged learners.

All I'd say is that energy and utility costs are the same for everybody, but disproportionately affect those on low incomes and in pockets of deprivation. So, I suppose, at the danger of repeating myself, we need to look at the incentives, if you're really serious about getting young people back on these youth programmes.

I think we're all on the same page on this. I'd assume, maybe, we need to conduct more research and look at the impacts of some of the programmes—I think it's longer term—and then that can feed back into Government policy and so on. So, I certainly feel there needs to be more work done on that.

Okay, great. Thank you, Luke. And I now bring in Sam Kurtz. Sam.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, panel. Leading on from Luke's line of questioning, I'm looking at specifically the potential regional differences, in terms of poverty and job opportunities, and we're aware that there's significant variation in terms of the type of need young people require in different parts of Wales. So, how well do you think the Welsh Government are approaching the current cater for local and regional variations? And how might the Welsh Government improve their offer at present? Whomever likes to start—. John, I can see you catching my eye there. 

If you look at the population in Wales, where it is now, I think, 3.1 million, there's been an increase, if you look at Cardiff, Newport areas, and a decrease in some rural areas, so I think that's having quite an impact on—. Depopulation is affecting things like schools, transport, et cetera, et cetera, jobs, and shops are closing and so on. So, the Government are obviously aware of that and they need to be taking action. The regional skills partnerships, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board and so on, I think they have a very important part to play in looking at regional disparities, and they know their areas best, and I think they need to be encouraged in what they're doing. So, we very much welcome the work they're doing. Developing skills—. What you want is young people who are looking for jobs not to have to leave where they live and move to Cardiff or Newport or Swansea. They need to have the opportunities in their own areas. So, there needs to be investment from the regional skills partnerships in order to encourage people to stay, and, I think, colleges and work-based learning providers have a very important role to play in that. So, I would say it is an important issue for the Welsh Government.

I don't know if I'm best placed to answer this, because certainly in terms of Jobs Growth Wales, all our delivery partners and consortium members are in the south-west. I think it probably comes back to issues we've already mentioned: transport and connectivity. Those kinds of issues are the ones that are challenging.


Okay, excellent, thank you. Moving on slightly, I want to talk about UK Government involvement as well, and throughout the pandemic we saw the introduction of the Kickstart scheme, and the opportunities that Kickstart have provided for that young cohort of people. Was that a success, to start with? Was there a case of duplication of what Jobs Growth Wales were providing, or was there a hand-in-glove approach in terms of what UK Government and Welsh Government were trying to provide to young people looking to get onto the employment ladder? Barry.

I think it was additional funding that was helping people get into work, and it was gratefully received. I have heard mixed messages on the success of Kickstart, but I'm sure those young people who got into employment as a consequence of it are very grateful for it. Jobs Growth Wales, I think, has a slightly different focus, if I'm honest. I think it's just about that engagement. What are their interests? What are their aspirations? Identify it and then progress onto, possibly, apprenticeships or FE or into employment.

No, I think it was just welcomed because it gave us that additionality, so we were able to offer that to perhaps another group, a cohort where perhaps it wasn't available under the other restrictions, perhaps—or eligibility, I should say—that you find around some Jobs Growth Wales programmes. So, it was very much welcomed. However, I think what we need to avoid is duplication, and make sure that we concentrate effort now on the young person's guarantee through Jobs Growth Wales and through the apprenticeship offer.

Okay. Excellent. We've talked about the involvement of schools and directing towards vocational educational opportunities and development, but we've not touched so much on the employers seeking apprenticeships for their businesses. Is it a case that we've got to look at the suitability of courses for employers to come to FE colleges, to go, 'Right, these are the courses that we need, these are the apprenticeships we need'? Is that side of the argument being put forward, so that it's from the bottom down of getting youngsters into apprenticeships and giving the information to employers, so that they know those apprenticeships are valuable assets to their business? Barry.

Can I come at it from two angles, then? First of all, just picking up on something that was referred to earlier in terms of getting young people who are in schools into colleges to meet employers, we've had, in collaboration with our local county council, a very successful year 9 choices day where we stand down our FE. We will get 100, 120 employers in. We have over 1,000 year 9 students coming in, so it's quite a feat, actually, to get them organised and into their successive workshops, which they follow along a particular route. And then, last week, we had probably about 800 year 10s coming in. We had employers in one area of the college and then we had higher education opportunities, work-based opportunities and Jobs Growth Wales in another part. So, the tensions that were referred to earlier between schools and colleges, there was no kind of tension in the college on that day, so these youngsters could walk around, talk to employers, find out what they're looking for, and perhaps help inform them of where they're going.

Coming at it from the other angle, employers coming in to college telling us what they want, I think you're probably aware, if I can use the energy sector as an example, that we now have 20 employers—more than 20 employers—who are interested in the floating offshore wind operations off the coast of Pembrokeshire, coming in and delivering on a programme that we've got to probably about 100 level 3 learners who are following a range of mechanical, electrical, electronic engineering, construction, IT and business courses. These students are now getting an opportunity to understand what kind of jobs are coming their way three or four years down the line, and what kind of apprenticeship routes they should be seeking. And on that score as well, I think, if I can refer back to last year's situation with our consortium, a £22 million consortium, we were over profile by about £2 million, so those apprentices are going in to work.

Okay. So, in that sense the educational elements are following the trends of what the employers are looking for and seeking, and it's not that we're too behind the curve, but that it's there, it's front and foremost, riding the crest of the wave in that sense, I take from your answer there, Barry. Lisa, I saw you—

Yes, just very, very quickly, Samuel, I think employer engagement is good for all sectors. We do really good events throughout the year to engage those young people, and hopefully get them into the vocational offer. I think what is critical is that we continue conversations with Qualifications Wales around fit for purpose, fit for the industry, because we've found a couple of stumbling blocks this year with two particular qualifications—health and social care, and construction—where they haven't met the needs, necessarily, of the learner, the potential learner and/or the employer. So, I think it's being able to have some honesty and see what can work better, and being able to have that dialogue, and that's important.


Chair, just one quick point. Every FE college will have businesspeople on their boards, so their governing bodies, and the governing bodies set the strategic direction and determine the curriculum, and so on. So, there's a very strong employer influence, not that you get it completely right—you can always do better—but it's a very powerful lever for making sure that colleges do respond to the needs of business.

Can I just come back on a point that Lisa raised in terms of the construction qualifications, in thinking about this beforehand and when we were talking? One of the routes for Jobs Growth Wales progressions was into construction. It is an obvious area and it was one that was very strong in terms of picking up people progressing. But, obviously, the removal of the level 2 apprenticeship in construction is going to have an impact on progression opportunities for Jobs Growth Wales trainees, most definitely.

Thank you, Sam. I'll now bring in Hefin David. Hefin. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Just a question to the Learning and Work Institute. You said, during the 2015-19 evaluation of Welsh Government's traineeships programme, that Welsh Government should review the range of provision for young people. Do you feel that that is still required, and, if so, would you like to see that provision altered in the light of cost-of-living pressures? I'm happy to hear from other witnesses on that question, too. 

On the first one, can I make a few comments? One area is the issue of flexibility and making sure programmes are flexible, and that the funding is flexible as well. I think, secondly, there's the issue of communication to providers to make sure providers know exactly what is on offer. I think we need to look also at progression—where do young people go, do they progress into apprenticeships after doing traineeships, and so on—so more research on that. I think there need to be many more positive messages coming out—case studies, examples showing progress—so people are much more aware.

And I think, generally, we welcome the programme, but I think there are lessons to be learnt. So, we would like the Welsh Government to take forward some of the points I'm making. And I think the communication point is very important, so that everyone understands what traineeships are and how they're different from apprenticeships, and so on and so forth, and actually people moving forward from traineeships into apprenticeships, and so on, I think is very important, and that we carry on researching and looking at the impact on that.

Hefin, I think that's the same for all of us.

Okay. Yes, I think I got that. Okay, thanks. And the other thing that the evaluation said was that providers are supporting trainees with food and clothing. That pressure is surely going to increase on providers now. Do you have concerns about that?

I think we would like the rate of reimbursement to employers to be looked at again, and as we're talking about the cost-of-living crisis, then obviously things like food and clothing become more important than they were when we actually carried out the research a few years ago. So, I think we need to look at the reimbursement given to employers for traineeships, definitely. That should be something I think the Welsh Government could look at, yes.

Okay. A question for Lisa now. How are cost-of-living pressures affecting the apprenticeship programmes that your members deliver?

Hefin, I think it underlines, really, what we've alluded to already. Apprentices are on programme. There's the availability of qualifications to make sure that they are, as I said, fit for purpose, and it's important that we have that continued dialogue. But as far as cost of living is concerned, it comes down to the infrastructure of transport, if we're talking about regional differences. That does impact greatly upon some of our apprenticeships being able to come into centre. We are doing far more digitally now. We have blended-learning apprenticeships. That is a positive, really, as far as the pandemic is concerned. But there is still a need to see that apprentice face to face sometimes, and it is just really about that accessibility. And it is about supporting them, because we do, over and above.

I think the greatest increase that we've seen, when you talk to health boards, when you talk to providers, when you talk to young people, is the impact on their mental health. So, we're finding that we have to resource more and more staff and get them qualified and skilled to become counsellors, if you like, with all due respect. Certainly for the independent training provider network, that has been an additional cost, an additional resource that we're more than happy to put in place at our own cost, but if we can have any additional support for that, that would be absolutely welcomed, because we're finding that we're having to do more referrals to partner agencies to help young people with some of the issues that they're facing—housing crisis, mental health issues—and signposting a lot more.


So, with that in mind, do you think that employers are finding, in this environment—is it harder to engage with employers, or find employers providing on-the-job training, as a result of some of these pressures?

I think the conversations that we have with employers, fortunately within the apprenticeship programme, the young person and the employer has what we call an adviser and assessor, from the actual provider that has regular meetings with them. They do regular reviews, so you have that ongoing dialogue. So, if there is a barrier to learning, a barrier for that apprentice, or even some extra additional support that the employer needs, that dialogue is ongoing, and, I have to say, is very, very effective. But what we are finding is that both are signposting more and more to additional support needs for these young people.

And with all of this packaged together, do you think it's feasible to say that the Welsh Government's target of 125,000 apprenticeships in this Senedd term is still achievable?

Undoubtedly, all of us across the board are focused and absolutely looking to continue with that pledge from the Minister in taking that forward, and that comes from us as a provider network, our work with FE colleagues, and, of course, with the regional skills plans as well. So, everybody is absolutely focused on that. And I think if we take away some positives from this—we recently had an awards evening, and I know that, next year, hopefully we're going to go back to face-to-face—. Employers are engaged in that, large corporate employers sponsor it as well as SMEs, and if you just take a couple of minutes to look at the successful outcomes there, and learners who are really vulnerable, really disadvantaged, but really came through and are now absolutely achieving, then that is important. So, if we were to flip it and look at what's important to that young person, or a mature apprentice, it really is about that recognition of the journey that they've been on and the support that they've received from the provider, the employer and Welsh Government.

So, with that in mind then, you talk about the journey that apprentices go on, and mature apprentices, do you think that there's a place for degree apprenticeships, and what form should they take, given that, if you're going to have a long-term route out of poverty, then lifelong learning is vital, and at the other end of the apprenticeship scale is that higher level and degree apprenticeships? Do you think Welsh Government are getting it right? What more can be done with degree apprenticeships?

I'll hand over to my colleagues within FE; I'll hand over to Barry in a second. But, from our perspective, for providers who really have upped their game and are now delivering degree apprenticeships, have invested in staff qualifications to bring them up to the level where they can deliver degree apprenticeships, and also having those partnerships with FE institutions, so the effective collaboration between an independent provider and an FE institution, where they're then providing that—

Well, for instance, I know that ALS, an independent provider in—well, pan Wales, actually, but they worked closely with—Cardiff Institute, I have to say then; forgive me, I've forgotten the name. With UWIC, sorry, to deliver—

Yes. Sorry, yes. It's my age. They worked well with them to actually deliver degree apprenticeships. So, you had the learner—forgive me, that's what we commonly call them—but we had the learner going through with the independent provider, but then they would actually go to the college, then, for some seminars and some tuition there as well, so that is effective. However, before I hand over to Barry, I think what we mustn't do is take our eye off the ball and realise that there is still the need out there for those level 2s, level 3s and 4s as well. And I'll hand over to Barry at that point.

Can I just pick up, before I answer your question about degree apprenticeships, on your previous question, which Lisa referred to, in terms of supporting students, getting them to link with employers, retaining employment, and working on those links? What we do—and I don't hide the fact—is we use our FE infrastructure an awful lot to support our work-based. We've got an employment bureau with links to employers. I mean, it would be foolish not to use that in terms of supporting young people into placements and employment. That's proved to be very successful for us as a college. 

In terms of degree apprenticeships, I do believe in them. I think they are potentially an alternative route for those people who have come through vocational routes—level 2, level 3, then on to apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships. I would like to think that that money doesn't come out of the work-based learning apprenticeship fund because there is huge demand. Your question about, 'Are we going to reach the 125,000?', well, I can't answer that with hand on heart, but I do know that we've got consortium members who are now saying that they're keen to submit pressure point requests. So, we over-delivered last year on a £22 million contract; I can't say that we will over-deliver this year, but people are already up against it in terms of over-profile.


I think John Graystone would just like to come in on this. 

Yes, just a quick point. In terms of degree apprenticeships, at the moment we're quite restricted in the subject areas. So, I think we would like to see it much more expanded to cover all areas. But, I think it's very important that we have a clear academic route with GCSEs, AS-levels, A-levels and university degrees. I think it's very important, if we really believe in vocational qualifications, that there's a clear vocational qualifications route so, we can go through traineeships, apprenticeships, degree apprenticeships. I think it's very important for raising the status of vocational qualifications within Wales and within employers as well. So, we hope that Welsh Government will continue to invest in and support degree apprenticeships. 

Ocê. Dwi wedi rhedeg allan o amser nawr.

Okay. I think I've run out of time now, Chair.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Hefin. Thank you very much. I'm afraid time has beaten us. So, thank you very much indeed for giving up your time this morning and for being with us. Your evidence will be very useful for us as a committee in scrutinising Welsh Government policies going forward. A copy of today's transcript will be sent to you in due course, so if there are any issues with that, then please let us know. But, once again, thank you very much indeed for being with us this morning. 

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Fe symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, i eitem 4, a dwi'n cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod. A yw Aelodau'n fodlon? Ydyn. Dwi'n gweld bod Aelodau'n fodlon, felly derbynnir y cynnig ac fe symudwn ni i'n sesiwn preifat ni.

We'll move on, therefore, to item 4. I propose in accordance with Standing Order 17.42 that the committee resolves to exclude the public. Are Members content? Yes, I see that they are content. So, that motion is agreed, and we will move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:33.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:33.