More than a job – creating career opportunities for young people

Our day job at Impetus-PEF is finding, funding and supporting the best organisations getting young people from low income backgrounds to succeed in education and find sustained employment. We know that these outcomes are transformative, if they can be accessed by young people born into poverty.

Many of the organisations Impetus-PEF supports might be described as working to prepare the ‘supply’ side of the youth labour market. Resurgo, ThinkForward, WorkingRite and others bring expertise to bear in getting young people – especially those most likely to end up NEET – ready for work. After all, we’ve heard from employers for some years now that entry-level positions are left unfilled because too many young candidates are not employable, lacking either qualifications or ‘soft skills’.  We recently worked with employers to pinpoint these essential skills that recruiters look for, and they form the crux of our report, Ready for Work. Our vision is for every young person leaving school or higher education to have enough of these capabilities to stand a fair chance of getting and keeping a job– and for employers to further develop their employee’s capabilities through training and effective management.

But we also know that simply working on the supply side can’t fix the problems with the UK’s youth labour market – where our relatively low adult unemployment rate sit at odds with high youth unemployment and where nearly one million of our young people are out of work. The UK could have the most ‘ready for work’ youngsters in the world and we’d still have a problem, because our labour market has changed in ways which do not favour young people.

Young people with poor qualifications are more likely to be in low skilled work than they were 20 years ago. And they will struggle to access the expanding share of high skill jobs. Moreover, OECD figures show that the UK is one of the few countries where skills levels amongst those entering the workforce are lower than those coming up to retirement.

So what needs to change?

  1. Education must be joined up to the workplace, both at the level of individual schools and systemically. Local labour markets should work hand-in-hand with local schools, each playing their part in giving young people the experiences and information they need to get ready for work.
  2. Young people need excellent, and tailored, information about post-16 study and careers. Not just about the personal skills they need, but about which courses lead to which jobs (and salaries!), which areas of work are growing locally and nationally and which jobs offer progression, or provide transferable skills to enable sideways moves.
  3. Employers need to work together within industries to agree on the skills and qualifications they value and need – now and in the future. Of course these need to be offered within HE and FE, but also via work-based study opportunities. Learning and earning fell during the 2000s. It seems to only mean ‘apprenticeships’ now, but it needs to be wider than this – if you want a high-skills employee, recruiting a graduate is not the only way to get one. The UK Commission on Employment & Skills calls this agenda ‘employer ownership of skills’, and is an area where the UK is falling behind its OECD neighbours.
  4.  Young people need sustainable employment, rather than just ‘any job’. A low-skilled job doesn’t have to be a bad job. Employers can prioritise retention and progression – offering secure contracts, decent conditions, training, and fair pay. When we (and I include Job Centre Plus and the Work Programme in this ‘we’) prioritise ‘any job’ we store up problems for the future, and we prop up unfair employers. At Impetus-PEF, we want to know that the jobs we help young people to get into are quality jobs that set them off on a pathway of continued employment, individual career progression, and a lifelong freedom from economic dependency. It’s important to exert pressure on employers to ensure that low-skilled jobs are not bad jobs, especially if the relative decline in middle-skills job is here to stay. Low-skills employers have a number of options to ensure they offer quality jobs, such as prioritising retention and progression – offering secure contracts, decent conditions, training and fair pay.

The long-term future of our labour market can look bleak, with knock-on effects for our economy. Young people are disproportionately unemployed, trapped in the bottom half of the skills ‘hourglass’, and less likely than previous generations to acquire new skills once they’ve got into work.  What will happen when they, under-employed and not skilled for the jobs available, represent the majority of the workforce? This serves neither the interests of business nor the interests of young people.

We urgently need to future-proof our labour force by equipping them with the information, skills and opportunities for progression they need. And businesses and wider industries need to future-proof themselves by investing in the workforce they will have in 15 years now – today’s young people.


Impetus − The Private Equity Foundation
About The Author
Jenny North is Director of Policy and Strategy at Impetus-PEF. Jenny joined Impetus-PEF from Relate, where she served as Head of Public Policy for six years. Prior to this she held policy positions with Maternity Alliance and New Policy Institute. Her experience also includes working at the Home Office as a Crime and Policing Analyst. Jenny holds a degree in Philosophy and Theology from Oxford University. Follow Jenny on Twitter: @JayEeeEnn

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