NUS Future of Work Commission takes the measure of the youth labour market

Recently whilst I’ve been speaking at events about education and employment, there are many statistics that I have had to repeat all too often and each time they don’t get any less shocking. In the report from the Commission on the Future of Work launched today there is another of these statistics and one that we should all find alarming. Almost 80% of students expect to be in graduate level employment within 6 months of leaving university – and yet the reality is that little more than half are in graduate level employment within 5 years of leaving full-time education. We also know that this is also a far too familiar story for students in FE, who have spent years working hard and yet find themselves in jobs that do not provide them with the money or security they need – let alone live up to the challenging and stimulating work they want.

If one thing is clear it’s that the world of work has changed dramatically over the past few years and so it is vital that we take a look at the state of the labour market and the role of students and study leavers within it. We have to ensure that young people are leaving education with the opportunities and support to access meaningful employment. That’s why last spring NUS launched the Commission on the Future of Work, bringing together a broad range of views and expertise through its 12 commissioners, ranging from the TUC to the British Chamber of Commerce and over 70 organisations submitted written and oral evidence to the commission last summer.

Today I’m delighted to launch the Work Commission report, alongside our other commissioners and The Work Foundation, who reviewed the submissions to the Commission. This report has taken a fresh look at the issues of employment and work and with the headline themes of; the labour market, education reform, employability, guidance and choices and, finally, connecting the various stakeholders who can have an impact upon youth employment. This is an exciting report which has brought together the views and experiences of so many different sectors and the report identifies some key issues that must be addressed.;

We know the potential talent that we are missing out on, as well as failing to meet the aspirations of young people, due to a lack of investment, support and equality of access to undertake varied work experience and career paths. I’m delighted that the report mentions that strong leadership and integration is needed locally to address youth employment; particularly between local businesses and employers, students’ unions and education institutions. The report also mentions the importance of ensuring that community and family networks are engaged.

When I think about my own experience of making choices about my education and work, I can’t think of many formal opportunities that I had to discuss my plans or my aspirations. That’s why it’s great that the report highlights the need for more support to be provided to young people at all stages of education and beyond and particularly in terms of quality Information Advice and Guidance that meets the career needs of all young people. Employers too have an obligation to develop the skills of their workforce through providing opportunities for students and study leavers to access quality work experience and entry level roles and it is important that students not only have the opportunity to develop their employability skills, but that they are also made aware of their employment rights and have the opportunity to call for decent working rights in their workplaces, but also in society more generally.

For NUS the key to addressing the issues identified in the report is the need to place greater value on the work and skills of students, recognising the many advantages we bring to the workplace and workforce. In my view addressing the above points becomes a matter of common sense; why wouldn’t we invest and work together to ensure that employers, and society more generally, have the opportunity to engage with all students and young people as they start their careers?

I’m grateful to have been able to work alongside our commissioners and I know that this report will keep on the pressure to work together to ensure we meet the challenges ahead and win a better deal.