As recently as two years ago, there were over a million young people, between the ages of 16 and 24, unemployed in the UK. The figure has fallen sharply as the economy has recovered, and the latest figure is just under three quarters of a million. The problem of youth unemployment seems to be receding fast.
But the new generation of workers faces a labour market that is changing rapidly, one in which the sources of insecurity are many. Technological change is leading to a redefinition of many jobs. Reports of robots stealing humans' employment are surely a case of sensationalism - after all, the humans are still available to work. But the type of work that people are called upon to do is changing. Many observers have referred to a 'hollowing out' of the labour market, or the development of an 'hourglass' labour market - one in which the demand for labour at the extremes of the skills distribution is buoyant, but the demand for intermediate skills is stagnant.
Matching young people's skills and potential to the jobs that are available is made difficult when the distribution of these skills differs substantially from the patterns of skills that are in demand. As the demand for skills evolves with the introduction of new technologies, so workers must be equipped to complement these technologies to best effect. This means training and re-training through the life cycle - and a much more fluid relationship between education, training and work than we have seen before. It also means that career structures within organisations need to be dismantled and redesigned so that progression remains possible. Young people need to develop their abilities in ways that enable them to contribute their utmost, and they need to know that they can be rewarded with careers, not just jobs.
The Work Foundation will be hosting fringe events at party conferences over the next month. These events, 'More than a job -creating career opportunities for young people' will focus on the challenge of providing young people with careers that entail a process of skills development, productivity enhancement, and progression. Put together, this amounts to a new covenant between society and our young people - one that protects them and nurtures their talents. If we fail to achieve this, the long term outlook for our economy is one of stagnation, but if we succeed, the potential rewards are huge.
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