Whose job is it to achieve full youth employment in the UK?
The theme for last week’s Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI) Youth Employment Convention was achieving full youth employment in the UK. This is certainly a good objective and one that we at Impetus-PEF will play our part in achieving. Many of the delegates I spoke to during the conference have been playing their part for many years and yet still one million young people are out of work – many seemed somewhat war weary. Although this agenda has received significant attention over the last few years from politicians, policymakers and employers – with apprenticeships receiving a makeover and the introduction of new traineeship schemes and programmes for the out of work – little real progress has been made towards achieving full youth employment.
Youth unemployment is not a new phenomenon and it is not purely a result of the recession, although this has exacerbated the problem. Youth unemployment has been on the rise since the early 2000s. We can, however, see from looking at other countries that it doesn’t have to be this way. It points to a structural issue in the UK’s youth labour market that, if we are to attain full youth employment, must be fixed.
Several speakers at the convention, including Lord Baker, made reference to countries with lower levels of youth unemployment, notably Germany, the Netherlands and Austria. Whether in the context of justifying the University Technical College (UTC) movement, or for greater business engagement with schools – both of which are compelling – what struck me most is the countries with low youth unemployment have very deliberate pathways for the transition from education into employment and are intrinsically linked to the needs of the local labour market. Their systems intentionally focus on where young people are located and what young people do to prepare for their future career
During both convention sessions that I spoke at, I referenced our proposal for a time-limited Secretary of State for School-to-Work Transitions. This received a mixed reaction. Let me explain why we think this is essential for fixing structural youth unemployment and ensuring every young person transitions successfully from education into employment.
Many people who point to Germany as a gold standard for youth transitions also point out that this system wouldn’t work in the UK due to our very different economy and levels of employer engagement in education. This may well be true, however what the UK can learn from Germany and other countries is that having a system is better than not having a system. Only by having someone at a national level responsible for building and realising the vision for Britain’s youth labour market and ensuring a clear line of responsibility for developing systematic and intentional pathways into work for all young people, will we stand a chance of achieving full youth employment.
We are not calling for a new government department and believe that this new role will only be necessary for a limited period of time. Their role would be strategic, working alongside DfE, DWP and BIS (amongst others) to systematise and operationalise the school-to-work transition, ensuring every young person has a clear pathway into employment. Similar to the introduction of a Minister for Cities, that seeks to bring strategic direction to a key component of the British economic machine, so youth employment deserves the focus and attention a Secretary of State would afford it.
Given the scale of the current problem, we need someone at the top of the tree to lead the charge. To be responsible for building and realising the vision for Britain’s youth labour market and ensuring there is a clear line of responsibility for making full employment for all young people a reality.