Youth unemployment: Finding the recipe for success
There are almost a million young people not in education, work or training. Current crisis levels are in large part down to the recession and whilst we have seen welcome improvements in the labour market over the last few months they have had little impact on the youth labour market.
Yet, the increase in youth unemployment actually predates the recession. Youth unemployment has been on the rise since the early 2000s at a time when the economy was growing steadily. Part of the explanation for the long-term rise is that transitions between education and work have become increasingly complex, particularly for those not pursuing an academic pathway.
The Coalition Government has rightly prioritised the issue, yet we know that successive governments have tried and failed to tackle the youth unemployment crisis. So, after having time to digest the various announcements at this years’ Party Conference circuit – do any of them have the right recipe for success?
Youth unemployment was clearly on the agenda of all three major political parties with various announcements around: improving information advice and guidance; creating work experience placements; increasing the number of quality apprenticeships; and ensuring that the 14-19 curriculum is reformed so that young people are equipped with the right skills.
However, worryingly some of the announcements seemed more geared towards sending tough messages on welfare and immigration rather than offering viable solutions:
- At the Conservative party conference David Cameron announced measures to withdraw key benefits from 18-to-24 year olds if they are not “earning or learning”.
- Whilst at Labour we heard Ed Milliband say that for “any firm who wants to bring in a foreign worker […] they also have to train up someone who’s a local worker, training up the next generation”.
Whilst we certainly need to encourage more young people to remain in education or training, we also need to make sure we don’t push young people into poverty. And similarly, requiring employers – who source skilled labour from overseas – to offer apprenticeship places will not in itself create a system whereby both employers and young people value apprentices as an alternative to an academic pathway.
Ensuring that the next generation is equipped with the skills to enter and progress in the labour market shouldn’t be a matter for political point scoring. To find solutions to young unemployment we need a clear vision, ambition and a political consensus that this is the top priority.
Yet, this isn’t something that government can tackle alone. That’s why through our work on The Missing Million Programme, we are calling on employers, education providers, voluntary sector organisations and government to come together to address to the problem.
Employers, in particular, have a key role to play, and we know that many businesses are stepping up to the mark. But still too few offer an apprenticeship place – just eight per cent of employers in 2009 offered an apprenticeship and only four per cent employed an apprentice.
Employers also need to engage much more effectively in the skills system – part of the success of the German model comes from the fact that employers are actively involved in the design and delivery of apprentice training – which means they get the skills they need to drive growth in the economy.
But we also need to support employers so that they can engage more effectively with young people whilst they are still at school. Measures such as mentoring schemes, workplace visits and work experience placements will help ensure that when young people leave education they have the knowledge and experience to ensure that they transition successfully into the world of work.