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Rising numbers of young people being shut out of first jobs – but causes pre-date recession

Tom Phillips

23 May 2012

Ahead of the latest government NEET figures, a report published tomorrow (23 May 2012) by The Work Foundation and Private Equity Foundation reveals that the past decade has seen a major rise in young people aged 16 – 24 who are either unable, or taking longer, to make the first move from education into work (see graph).

The report argues that long-term changes in the skills required for first jobs have made it harder for many young people to get a foothold in the jobs market. This is likely to have been a significant factor in the growth of young people NEET (not in education, employment or training) since 2001. 

Lost in Transition? The changing labour market and young people not in
education, employment or training
argues that the long-term shift from a production to service-driven economy has made soft skills increasingly important for young people seeking their first job. However, the education and training system has not adapted to reflect these changes, while employers often expect employees to be job-ready from day one. This leaves a growing number to “fall through the gaps”, struggling to make the first and most difficult step into sustained employment.

In England, nearly half of NEETs now have no experience of sustained paid employment beyond casual and holiday work. This represents over 450,000 young people who so far have been unable to make the transition from learning into employment.

Dr Paul Sissons, report author, said: “The labour market has changed considerably over the past few decades. First jobs are now less likely to be in manufacturing and more likely to be in the service sector where skills such as communication, team working and customer service are important. For young people without the soft skills needed to access work in these growing sectors, finding employment has become increasingly difficult.”   

Shaks Ghosh, Chief Executive, Private Equity Foundation, said: “We know that if young people haven’t got on to the first rung of the job ladder by 24, they will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives. Some will never work. That’s why this research is so shocking. Many NEET young people face a Catch-22: they don’t have the so-called ‘soft skills’ employers are looking for, but often the only opportunity to learn those skills is on the job.

“We need to ensure all our young people, irrespective of background, are connected to and prepared for today’s world of work before they leave school. They need personalised guidance, workplace mentors and introductions to business networks, as well as work experience which leads to paid employment.” 

The report urges the government to ensure young people are provided with continuous support and follow-up whilst making their first move into employment. It raises concerns about recent changes to careers advice and guidance services which have divided responsibility for support between schools and the new careers service. This leaves potential gaps around 16-18 year olds and there is a real danger that the changes will leave some young people with insufficient and inconsistent support when they need it most. The report also stresses the need for clear pathways into the labour market for those who have already “fallen through the gaps.”

Paul Sissons continued, “A period of worklessness while young can detrimentally impact peoples’ careers over the longer-term. More needs to be done to support young people at this crucial point of transition, and local service provision must be geared up to address this aim. This requires consistent support and effective coordination of services across local government, schools, employers and the third sector to prevent more young people from falling through the gaps in public provision.”

Notes to editors

1. The proportion of NEETs aged 16 – 24 without paid work experience has risen from 41% in 2001 to 48% in 2007 and 2011. The 450,000 figure is based on an average of four quarter estimates in 2011.

2. Dr Paul Sissons is available for interviews, briefings and written comment.

3. Shaks Ghosh, Chief Executive of the Private Equity Foundation, is also available for interviews and briefings.

4. Press opportunities are available at a Private Equity Foundation initiative in Shoreditch for 14 – 19 year olds. The project operates in schools in Hackney and Islington, which both have very high levels of NEETs.

5. Lost in Transition? The changing labour market and young people not in education, employment or training is available from the press team in advance or upon publication from

6. The report will be launched at an event on 22 May featuring Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms MP, Shadow Minister for Employment; Iain Walsh, Deputy Director, Labour Market Interventions Strategy, Department for Work and Pensions and Baroness Stedman-Scott, Chief Executive, Tomorrow’s People. To register for the event, please contact us using the details below. More info here.

7. Private Equity Foundation’s Manifesto for Action is available here.

8. Private Equity Foundation (PEF) was set up in 2006 to unlock the potential of young people with limited life chances. Its focus is primarily on the NEET issue. There’s no silver bullet so PEF supports children and young people from age four to 24, at home, through school and into the workplace. It provides the very best youth interventions with funding and pro bono business expertise to help them improve effectiveness and grow. To date, it has changed 60,000 young lives through 19 charities.

9. The Work Foundation aims to be the leading independent, international authority on work and its future. The Work Foundation is part of Lancaster University – an alliance that enables both organisations to further enhance their impact.

Media enquiries:

Tom Phillips 020 7976 3554

Anna Kharbanda 020 7976 3646

For urgent out-of-hours enquiries: Nasreen Memon 07825 527 036