Alliance Assembly Member and Employment and Learning spokesperson, Cllr. Naomi Long, was part of a delegation which today met with the Permanent Secretary and senior officials from the Department of Employment and Learning to discuss their concerns at the loss of the WorkTrack programme.
The delegation included representatives of the main political parties and WorkTrack providers. Cllr Long called on the Minister, Mr Barry Gardiner MP to engage with local elected representatives to address the gap in provision left by his decision to end the WorkTrack scheme.
Cllr Long said, “WorkTrack was specifically introduced to try to move those who are economically inactive into employment, and was in part a response to the fact that many of those individuals would not be eligible for or able to access other training and employment schemes. Frequently, these are people who do not even appear in the headline figures for unemployment.
“Due to the nature of the scheme, it targeted groups, such as those with learning difficulties, women returners and those with disabilities, who experience particular barriers to employment. Given the right guidance and support, such as that offered by WorkTrack, they can often enter the workplace, not only contributing financially to society, but rebuilding their own confidence and self-worth in the process.
“In a recent letter I received from the Minister, Barry Gardiner MP, he recognised that the ending of WorkTrack would impact negatively especially on these groups. However, he seemed not to recognise the need for new measures to mitigate against this, despite the fact that those barriers to participation which drove the Government to introduce WorkTrack in the first place, still exist.
“There is a real need for, at the very least, some similar, work-based employment scheme to complement existing provision if the Minister seriously wants to engage the almost three in ten adults who are not economically active.
“Today’s meeting provided no easy answers to the current situation, but it did give an opportunity for these concerns to be raised and the response to them to be explored.
“I would call on the Minister to reconsider his decision not to meet with local elected representatives in relation to this issue and instead engage with us to ensure that the experience of WorkTrack providers and their input in this discussion will not simply be lost to the Department if the scheme is wound up in three months time.”