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Getting Young Britain Working

Authors: The Work Foundation Stephen Uden, Head of Skills & Economic Affairs, Microsoft Ltd

08 December 2010

In many ways, young people have been the real casualties of the recession. They were major recipients of public services that are now being cut, will ultimately have to pay back the colossal debts being run up and yet are unable to find employment in the current labour market conditions. The OECD estimates that unemployment among young people is set to keep rising in the months ahead and stay close to 20% across the OECD to the end of 2011. As a result, many unemployed young people are likely to experience a prolonged period of joblessness.

In Britain and many OECD countries the youth unemployment rate is over three times the adult rate whereas in Germany the ratio is only 1.7. This is in large part due a stronger and more developed approach to apprenticeships. As part of our Britain Works programme, which is helping 500,000 people gain skills and get jobs over three years, Microsoft has pioneered a programme to train unemployed young people as apprentices in some of the 30,000 small IT companies that we work with in the UK. Many of these young people are inspired by the “hands-on” practical approach to education involved in an apprenticeship, while our supply chain gains valuable skills that they have been able to specify for themselves to meet the needs of their business.

On the supply side, the challenge is to overcome the work readiness issues which prevent young people from competing for jobs.

In education, we need to provide opportunities for young people to engage with the skills they will need in the workplace. A great example of this would be the Microsoft IT Academy programme, supporting schools, colleges and universities to train 60,000 people a year on the technologies that they will see in the workplace.

There is a particular need to focus on providing skills and opportunities to those with additional barriers to employment. Through Young Britain Works, Microsoft is tripling the size of its work experience programme and targeting it on the people who will benefit the most rather than those with the contacts. This is through partnerships with social enterprises such as Action Acton, Vital Regeneration and Remploy. A recent survey we conducted showed that 77% of business owners would hire someone with more experience but only 12% offer work experience to people with connections to the company.

The widely varying rates of youth unemployment across the OECD show that this issue is addressable by concerted action to provide good quality apprenticeships, to reconnect disadvantaged young people with training and opportunities and to encourage young people to stay in education and acquire workplace skills. All of the examples involved partnership between government agencies, NGOs and businesses such as Microsoft. The challenge to policy makers is how to facilitate this kind of joined up activity to address the challenge of helping our unemployed young people acquire skills and jobs.

Microsoft are sponsors of The Work Foundation's Knowledge Economy programme.