The youth labour market in Britain, today and tomorrow

Work. What is it good for? Well, quite a lot actually. It gives you a sense of pride and self-satisfaction, you meet new people, are a part of something and continue learning. A symptom of the Credit Crunch has been shockingly high levels of youth unemployment across Europe. In France the number is 25%, Spain 56%, and Greece 61%. The UK is not immune. Recent estimates have found that 18% of our youth are unemployed.

In fact youth unemployment started rising before the recession, showing it is a structural, not just cyclical, problem. Unemployment while young can lead to long-term reduction in wages, increased chances of subsequent periods of unemployment and even poor health.

Youngsters understand how much harder the employment market has become. In a Demos survey, 43% of teenagers named unemployment and access to work as their number one concern. This is why Bright Blue and Impetus-PEF held a panel discussion on the Youth Labour Market in Britain, Today and Tomorrow.

The panel consisted of Chris Skidmore MP (Number 10 Downing Street Policy Board), Daniela Barone Soares, Chief Executive of youth-focused, venture philanthropy organisation Impetus-PEF and Mark Wallace, Executive Editor of Conservative Home. Each gave their personal views on what Government can do to help youth into work.

Daniela Barone Soares called for a Secretary of State for youth employment, who would be responsible for the key transition period between school and work. This person would lead a cross-departmental unit to coordinate policy for youth unemployment, with a long-term goal of reducing the number of unemployed youth and ensuring it stays down. Research has shown that not enough support is provided to youths during the crucial transition period between education and employment. A Work Foundation report has found that young people do not believe they get adequate career guidance. It was Daniela’s contention that offering greater support at an early stage would help smooth the transition into work and would be greatly beneficial.

Chris Skidmore MP wanted to build on the reforms put in place by the current Government. Education Secretary Michael Gove will have the biggest influence over the next 10 years on how work-ready school leavers will be. Chris argued that the number of academies and free schools needs to carry on increasing, closer links must be fostered between business and education, and schools must be able to adapt to the needs of the labour market to ensure the skills they teach remain relevant to industry. Evidence suggests that contact with employers while at school improves the job prospects and earning potential of young people. Groups of local business or trades-people should be encouraged to form trusts to run free schools. We should also be looking at how trade schools operate in the US.

Mark Wallace wanted the Government to make it easier and more financially rewarding for businesses to employ under-25s. Business do not hire people to get unemployment down, or because work is a social good, but rather because it is profitable for them to do so. For Mark, the minimum wage should not be raised so high that it makes it less appealing for a business to give a young person the chance to put their first step on the ladder. Apprenticeships are a great way to transition people between education and school. Young people can gain work experience while still learning and employers have the opportunity to mould a worker. The Government should offer cash incentives through the tax system so businesses can afford to run more apprenticeships.

The panel had an open discussion about the nature of youth unemployment with insightful contributions from the floor and Bright Blue has plans to explore themes raised during this discussion in its upcoming work. One thing we can all agree on is how important it is that young people are able to make a valuable contribution to the labour market.

Impetus − The Private Equity Foundation
About The Author
Nick Denys is Head of Digital at Bright Blue, http://brightblue.org.uk.

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