Unemployed juveniles

[From the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: May 3rd, 1919]

As the result of discharges from the munition works, there were 330 unemployed juveniles in Luton in February. Since that date, as the result of the activities of the Juvenile Employment Committee, this number has been reduced to 227, and instructional classes have been organised for those who are still awaiting new employment.

Many are there who are said to be temporarily spoiled for ordinary occupations by the very high wages they have been receiving at the munition works. To remedy the existing state of affairs, efforts are being made to devise an apprenticeship system, particularly in connection with the distributive trades. This is to deal with the wages question, and it is proposed that the term of apprenticeship shall not expire until the age of 18 is reached, having regard to the fact that young people will be attending continuation schools till that age is reached.

At the meeting of the Bedfordshire Education Committee on Friday, the Higher Education Committee reported having arranged a scheme of instruction for unemployed boys and girls at Bedford and Luton. The estimated weekly cost of the instruction at Bedford was £20 6s, and at Luton £23.

Mr H. M. Lindsell said the employment donation was given to young people on condition that they attended classes. The entire cost was to be borne by the Board of Education.

The Luton Tradesmen's Association have two representatives on the local Juvenile Employment Committee, and at the instance of Mr J. J. Wooding, the Secretary of the Committee, Mr Picton attended the quarterly meeting of the Association at the Town Hall on Tuesday evening, and gave an address on the work which is being attempted.

After referring to the amounts paid in unemployment donation, Mr Picton said there was no doubt the juvenile employment question required special consideration. It was uphill work, and juvenile employment was in a bad state.

During the war young people, owing to the oxigencies of the moment, went into the munition works instead of being apprenticed in the ordinary way to various trades. They were taken for munitions and nobody considered whether it was right or wrong. To a certain extent boys had taken the places of men, but the increase of boys in industry was only 18 per cent, whereas the increase of women was about 43 per cent.

No doubt the chief factor had been the earning capacity. Boys had made £5 and £6 a week in plenty of places, and it had spoiled them absolutely for anything else.

Only about a fifth of them were likely to be required in the engineering trade under normal conditions, and the remainder would have to find other employment.

To minimise the effect of discharges an effort was made to devise a scheme by which details of pending discharges would be notified to the committee in advance, but this was found impossible, and boys and girls simply came off munition work by the shoal, without other openings being ready.

In February there were 330 juveniles unemployed and, although they had been with engineering works, they had not learned the work of an engineer. They had learned to work a capstan lathe or a drilling machine, had been put on piece work and drew £5 or £6 a week, and it was no good to them.

That was what the committee had to contend with now. Educational authorities were pressed to open training centres, and one for boys our of work was now working at Union Chapel. They attended each day to receive instruction in educational subjects and in physical training. The authorities at Biscot Camp had lent physical instructors and the boys were really doing very good work.

In connection with apprenticeship, Mr Picton said he was prepared to deal with the straw trade, the distributive trades and the building trades. An effort was being made to draw a reasonable scheme which should become the standard for the district for boys entering the distributive trades.

Arrangements had also been made with the educational authorities for particulars to be received in advance of boys shortly to leave school. The support of businessmen was wanted, and if they would notify what openings they would have, the committee would look out for the best boys.

It must not be assumed, said Mr Picton, that all boys who were taking the unemployment donation were wasters. Some of them were very anxious to get openings where they could make a good start.