The Future Jobs Fund helped unemployed young people and the social enterprises they worked for. Photograph: Rex Features
In the next few days, Social Enterprise London's (SEL) final two participants complete their six-month paid work placements as part of the abandoned Future Jobs Fund (FJF) programme. SEL was part of the first wave of applicant organisations and so our experience over the last 27 months spans the FJF's complete cycle from glint in the Brown government's eye to one of its last beneficiaries.
When the FJF was announced in 2009, we had scant detail about how it would work and no idea about the scheme's suitability for social enterprise. We contacted our 2,400 members anyway to see if they were game for six months of a subsidised, long-term unemployed man or woman under 24. We were gobsmacked as the following 36 hours revealed hundreds of placement offers, and so London's Future 500was born.
The partnership we put together was with 164 social enterprises taking an average of four placements each. Given their small size, many employers needed more support to manage their young recruits than we had anticipated, but nonetheless they lived up to their reputation as social businesses and most made a job offer. In fact even though some participants struggled with the world of work – sadly, two even ended up in prison – 69% did not return to benefits, which achieved our ambition to work with those furthest from the labour market and help them become social entrepreneurs of the future. As Richard Cummings, HR director at Green-Works, told us: "The whole programme has been pretty painless and you guys really helped it work. Together we have made a real difference to the lives of so many people."
The scheme closed within weeks of the last election, so the 1,500 additional jobs we were subsequently offered have gone by the wayside. But why don't those social enterprises take young people on anyway if they have genuine jobs to offer? The answer is economic.
Social enterprises still struggle to attract mainstream investment so they are often undercapitalised and their restricted growth means that taking on skilled staff is a process undertaken carefully, and long-term unemployed young people with limited skills pose too great a risk. The wage subsidy combined with third-party mentoring, expertly delivered through social enterprises like Striding Out, reduce that liability. As Stephen Hurton, director of Proper Oils, told us, "Proper Oils would not ordinarily have offered him the job if we had not had the six-month period to induct and train him. This period was required to get the young person trained to a suitable level so he earned his offer of full-time employment."
This view was echoed by Caroline Roake, of Livity, who said: "For financial reasons, last year we couldn't have considered taking someone on without the FJF scheme, but having generated a junior receptionist role for it, we were very pleased to offer our receptionist an extension to her role after the six months were up. I'm sure there are many similar stories from other employers who have found they can't do without the person when the initial six months come to an end."
We know that FJF had difficulties elsewhere and some larger employers struggled. And we know that our final job number was particularly good, but as no project lead was asked to compile a retention rate figure and the government cancelled the evaluation programme we will never know with any degree of accuracy where it worked and where it did not. All we can go on is anecdotal evidence and the testimonies we still get from the social enterprises which became so committed to the project and the young people whose lives FJF changed forever.
"My coach definitely did help me to discover where I want to be and has helped me to become strong in the person I am," Sophia Williams, an employee at Think Productive, said.