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Rhian Johns
Director of Policy and Campaigns, Impetus-Private Equity Foundation
Rhian  Johns

What’s the role for employers in tackling youth unemployment?

Authors: Rhian Johns Rhian Johns

05 July 2013

Last Tuesday (2 July) saw the launch of a new piece of research that looked at the role that employers can play in tackling one of the biggest social issues of our time – youth unemployment.

There are nearly one million unemployed youth in the UK and contrary to belief this is not a just a result of the current recession.  Youth unemployment has been on the rise since the early two thousands.   It also doesn’t have to be this way.  Many of our European neighbours do not have similar rates of youth unemployment: in fact only Greece and Spain have higher levels.  We have a structural problem in the UK that needs fixing.

Some argue that youth unemployment is simply due to a lack of jobs.  Where this might hold true in some areas of the country, overall the number of jobs in the economy has been rising since 2009, however, young people have disproportionally missed out on these opportunities.  It appears that older workers are finding it easier to secure employment.

The report looks at some of the barriers faced by young people in securing work and asks whether there is a valid business case for employing younger workers.  Often, we think it is the government who have the most levers to pull, this report asks what employers can do which will both have a positive impact on their business and on young employees.  It looks not only at the role employers play in recruiting young people but also in developing their employability skills whilst still in education.

During a round table with a group of employers last week to launch the report there was a discussion about the need for a tri-approach to ensuring young people have the qualifications, skills and confidence they need to transition successfully from education into the workplace.  Schools, employers and government need to work together.  Employers cannot expect young people to be job ready from day one if they haven’t played their part in preparing them during their time in education.  Schools must collaborate with local businesses and help their student’s gain a better understanding of the opportunities that are available to them and what skills and qualifications they will need to succeed.  Government must re-examine its policy around Information Advice and Guidance (IAG), if responsibility remains de-centralised to schools then they must monitor quality and compliance.

One simple idea the report recommends is for every school to have a ‘local employer governor’ with the responsibility for the development of the schools engagement with local businesses.  I’d take this one step further and recommend that the ‘local employer governor’ also have responsibility for providing teachers with up-to-date local labour market data.  This would enable schools to prepare young people not just for a generic labour market but for the jobs which are in demand locally.

The report also recommends that businesses make their recruitment practices as youth friendly as possible. This is certainly welcome, however, for many organisations work experience placements, engaging with schools and employing youth is seen as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity – we need to ensure the business case for employing young people stands up and that engaging young people becomes fundamental to the way a business operates and its HR practice.  Whilst having a strong CSR plan is great, this alone will not solve our structural youth unemployment crisis.  Businesses need to recognise the business benefits – just as schools need to recognise that employability skills for the twenty first century include but are not limited to qualifications.  And Government can play its role by further developing the traineeship and apprenticeship programmes, rewarding and recognising good practice within the business community and ensuring every young person gets access to quality IAG which supports their transition from education into employment.

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