Creating a culture of employability
Looking out into the packed rooms at our “Lost in Transition” fringe event at the three major party conferences, it was clear that youth unemployment was one of the top issues on politicians’ agendas. Addressed at the main party conference events, as well as via a host of fringe events seeking to uncover solutions, this willingness to discuss youth unemployment is powerful and its momentum must be capitalised on.
Although they were keen to talk about youth unemployment, absent from all three parties was a clear vision of what the youth labour market in the UK should look like. The problem has been identified, and its roots are deep. What then, do we see as possible solutions?
My vision is of a youth labour market with clearly articulated and valued academic and vocational pathways into employment. This would be based on a system of collaboration – employers, educators, parents, young people and the social sector all working together – to create a “society” where every young person is given support to gain the qualifications, skills and work experience needed to successfully transition into employment.
Without a clear vision, it could be all too easy to forget the long-term issue and focus only on reducing current youth unemployment figures. At the party conferences, many solutions were proposed. For example, it is true that more employers should be encouraged to take on trainees and apprentices. This provides young people with valuable work experience and qualifications, and can also lead into a full-time job. But youth unemployment is a deeply entrenched issue, and both short-term fixes and longer-term preventative measures need to be implemented to empower this and future generations to find and access sustainable employment.
To address the longer-term, we must consider how to help children in education adequately prepare themselves for employment. Currently, schools are a vehicle through which young people obtain qualifications. While this is incredibly important, more must be done in and out of school to ensure young people are also gaining the skills and work experience that will be required for them to access employment. High-quality, locally-focused and face-to-face careers information, advice and guidance is one example of a change that could play a huge role in helping young people make educated choices early on to find and get on a career path that is right for them.
In order to address the deep-rooted structural issue, we must instil systematic changes that will support young people throughout their education as well as during their transition into work. We all acknowledge the youth unemployment problem, but for one million young people what is needed now is a clear plan to get them into work. However, we must also ensure that our policy addresses not only the current crisis, but also recognises the need to work with 14- to 16-year-olds, preparing them now for their transition and creating accessible and sustainable pathways to connect them to the world of work.