What to do about youth unemployment?
Authors: Dr Neil Lee
13 October 2011
Yesterday’s job numbers were grim. Young people, in particular, are having a tough time of it. Unemployment amongst 16 – 24 year olds is likely to hit a million soon. And an overlooked aspect of the numbers was the rise in young people who are long-term unemployed – an increase of 53,000 on the last quarter.
Solutions clearly need to be found. We’re working on this in two ways – as part of our ongoing research with the Private Equity Foundation (more on this soon) and as part of our Missing Million research programme (to be launched next year). We held an event last week with policy, business and the third sector to ask what the key challenges are and how they could be addressed.
An important concern was work experience. Many young people know little about work when they leave school. Work experience placements tend to be short term and late on. Evidence from the UKCES report The Youth Inquiry found that employers thought young people lacked experience, rather than skills. This is vital both for employment and, as the rich tend to have better contacts and get their children into work earlier, social mobility. We need to integrate work into the schooling system much more closely.
Politicians are very fond of apprenticeships. They’re right - apprenticeships are an important pathway into work - but its not quite that simple. Expanding the number of places without maintaining quality risks devaluing the brand. And most of the noise is about people starting apprenticeships – we need to ensure people complete them. Alongside this, there are other difficulties in the system which could usefully be smoothed out. My colleague Alice Holland – an apprentice at The Work Foundation – gave us a first hand view of the problems of the system. She’ll be blogging on this next week.
And finally, business will have to play a key role. Many large employers already perform valuable roles in introducing young people to the labour market. But we need more companies to do this through finding incentives for young people to be recruited and – crucially – for firms to stick with them for long enough for them to develop the soft skills needed for the world of work. Next month, we’ll be bringing together leading businesses with policymakers for a roundtable discussion.
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