Covid-19 has impacted the economy and labour market at an unprecedented scale, and threatens to reverse progress made in reducing unemployment and economic inactivity in Wales over the last decade. We know that the latest labour market statistics do not reflect the entire economic picture, with economists predicting that the full impact will not be felt until October at the earliest.
We have already deployed a generous package of support for Businesses in Wales, through our Economic Resilience Fund (ERF), which has seen £150 million worth of crucial grants to help deal with the impacts of coronavirus. Indications are that the ERF has helped protect around 75,000 jobs.
But we want to do more to continue to help individuals and businesses to navigate the crisis. Today I am announcing nearly £40 million investment to support delivery of our “Covid Commitment”, This funding will ensure anyone over 16 in Wales can access advice and support to find work, pursue self-employment or find a place in education or training and will be targeted at individuals in the Welsh Labour Market most likely to be negatively impacted.
This additional ERF investment is in addition to the £50 million announced last week by my colleague, Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education, for Universities and Colleges to maintain teaching, learning and skills in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus and forms part of our longer term commitment to focus on improving the employment outcomes for those already disadvantaged in the labour market, including disabled people, women, BAME and those on low incomes with low skills.
This investment will deliver:
- Expansion of front line services within Working Wales and Communities for Work Plus to assist with matching participants with local labour market opportunities, support job search, expand mentor provision for unemployed individuals requiring more intensive and tailored support, with onward referral, where appropriate, to the wider employability offer including DWP services. Plus a new self-employment barriers fund, offering up to £2,000 to support business start-up.
- Recruitment support and incentives to support employment of young Apprentices aged 16-24, encourage re-employment of redundant apprentices, and sector driven Shared Employer Apprenticeships.
Using our Traineeship Programme to provide essential support and work experience for 16-18 year olds. Plus support for more graduates to access work experience, work tasters and paid work placements when they leave University through Go Wales.
- Health led counselling and therapeutic services via the In Work Support Service to support employee retention, for those at risk of unemployment due to musculoskeletal or mental health problems, with expanded support for those unemployed with mental health and/or substance misuse issues as a result of Covid-19.
- Training support for employers to upskill and develop their people, including specific partnership projects with the creative, hospitality and tourism, semi-conductor, advanced engineering, manufacturing, and digital industries through the Flexible Skills Programme and Degree Apprenticeships.
- Retraining support for the existing workforce to find new or better employment, switch sectors and occupations, and access a wider range of job opportunities in areas of skills demand through ReAct and the Union learning Fund. Plus the national roll out of the Personal Learning Account Programme.
As part of our longer term commitment to lifelong learning, this increases the total budget for the Personal Learning Account Programme to £15.5 million, to enable employed people and furloughed workers to obtain the skills, knowledge and qualifications to reskill or upskill to embark on a new career, and do so in a way that fits around their work and family commitments or lifestyle. It will also help employers rebuild their businesses through skills and training in areas such as digital, marketing, production and management.
Our approach will be underpinned by new Disabled People Employment Champions who will work with businesses across Wales to create the conditions for disabled people to thrive in work, support recruitment and retention, and make workplaces more inclusive – changing attitudes and reducing stigma.
Today, I call on employers to take advantage of our package of measures to create job opportunities, reshape the skills of existing employees and importantly give the younger generation a chance to experience and enter the job market at such a difficult time. We recognise that business appetite to recruit is at a record low, and that short term incentives may be an important lever to stimulate the market.
Our Social Partnership approach in Wales will be key to our economic recovery and to developing collective solutions to common challenges. It is critical that we work together to harness what is being delivered across Wales to respond in these unprecedented times. That is why I have called upon the private sector, social partners, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and local government to work hand-in-hand to sustain Wales’ economy to help mitigate the impact of the Covid-19.
We have re-established Regional Employment Response Groups (RERGs) to drive collective action to draw intelligence across the regions, hotspots for recruitment or redundancies, and deploy resources to support, identify and match people into jobs.
We are confident that by working together in conjunction with the UK Government Plan for Jobs, and DWP in Wales, we can better the offer for the people of Wales by the investment announced today.
We not only want to bounce back from this pandemic, we want to ‘Build Back Better’, by creating a national economy which sees employment, wealth and prosperity spread more equally across Wales.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.