More than a job: Why the UK needs to take urgent action
A growing proportion of young people face a bleak future in today’s labour market. Youth unemployment was on the rise before the recession and will not be solved by the recovery alone. Rising living costs and stagnant wages have disproportionately affected those under thirty, with young people’s wages experiencing very little change, in real terms, over the last decade. Urgent action must be taken to improve the career prospects of disadvantaged youth.
Transitions from school to work have become increasingly difficult. A growing proportion of young people have become detached from the labour market and struggle to access work. Of those that do manage to access work, many are underemployed with high levels of those in part-time work saying they would like a full-time job and many wanting to work more hours. Almost 30 per cent of young people who are in work are underemployed, a figure which is triple that of any other age group.
And a growing proportion of young people are becoming stuck in low-skilled, low wage work. The youth labour market has become increasingly polarised. The number of young people working in low-skilled jobs has doubled over the last few decades and now accounts for over a fifth of all those in work. The majority of these jobs have limited opportunities for career and wage progression.
The institutional and policy environment is failing many young people. The UK is lagging behind many developed nations, with the OECD reporting that school leavers in England have lower levels of basic skills than their grandparents and now perform worse than young people in almost every other developed nation. And the education system is failing to equip many young people with the skills employers say they need. Alongside this, much of the direction of government policy has negatively impacted on young people – including cuts to funding, changes to careers guidance, tuition fee increases and ending of incentive payments to college students, and increased benefit conditionality.
This has severe implications both for social mobility and for the future of the UK’s economy. A growing group of young people are becoming marginalised in the labour market – in the future they are likely to suffer from lower earnings potential, repeat spells of unemployment, financial insecurity and increased risk of physical and mental health issues. Unless urgent action is taken now to tackle issues of low educational attainment, skill development and progression in work, young people, the public purse and the economy will all suffer. That’s why we are recommending urgent action at a number of levels including:
- Strengthening the apprenticeship system to ensure that it provides a proper high skill alternative to academia;
- Coordinate services locally to ensure that no young person falls through the cracks and the services are strategically commissioned to fill any gaps;
- Secure face-to-face access to information advice and guidance for all young people and ensure that career pathways and training opportunities are mapped to create clear progressions routes;
- Support and incentivise schools to engage more actively with employers to provide work placements, workplace visits, mentoring opportunities and school talks.