Jobless youngsters are told to join the Army

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YOUNG UNEMPLOYED people are to be encouraged to join the army in an extension of the Government's New Deal programme. David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, and George Robertson, the Defence Secretary, are drawing up proposals to help 18- to 25-year-old job seekers sign up, as part of a drive to boost recruitment in the armed forces and give young people direction.

The New Deal applicants are to be offered the chance to tour barracks and go on assault courses to get a taste of military life. They could also sign up for special fitness training programmes to help them meet the stringent qualifications required for the armed forces.

Ministers confirmed last week that the army, navy and air force will be looking to recruit unemployed young people. Personal advisers, allocated to each person signing up to the New Deal, will be issued with guidance designed to promote careers in the forces. And closer formal links are also being established between job centres and army recruitment centres around the country.

The Government thinks the army can provide training that will lead to life-long careers and also instill a culture of discipline and confidence in young people who are unemployed.

Ministers are also drawing up plans for a new set of qualifications for military personnel, which can be used in civilian life. They want to make it easier for young people to transfer what they have learned in the forces - such as engineering, computer programming and aviation skills - to the outside world. Recruits will be given new "learning credits" for army skills, such as mine clearance or carpentry, which can be used later to gain a college certificate.

"We want them to have more opportunities to gain accredited vocational qualifications which are then transferable once they have left the forces," a senior MoD source said.

The move is part of a drive to shed the army's aggressive "square bashing" image and stress that the armed forces are still relevant to the modern world. The development follows growing problems of recruitment to the forces, which are no longer viewed as popular careers for young school leavers - many teenagers are put off by the prospect of being sent to "boot camp".

Applicants for the New Deal programme, who will face losing their state unemployment benefits if they refuse to take a job or embark on training, are to be offered the chance to join the forces as one of their career options.

Whitehall sources stressed that applicants from the New Deal would have to meet the same qualifying criteria as other potential recruits.

Opposition politicians have criticised the New Deal for providing short- term jobs, a tactic they regard as designed to reduce the dole queues rather than properly boost an individual's career prospects.