Last month, I attended the 99% Campaign’s parliamentary event on youth unemployment in Westminster.
The event was extremely well-attended, and the debate could have gone on for many hours longer than it did. At times though, it felt as if there were two separate discussions going on about two different types of youth unemployment.
Many of the panelists wanted to discuss unemployment among school leavers and the weakness of various measures designed to help them–from careers advice in schools to apprenticeships. However, many of young people present were recent graduates for whom “youth unemployment” meant them and their friends being unable to find work after graduation.
Before the event, I instinctively found myself in the latter camp. I will graduate from a Master’s Degree in September, and not a day goes by when I don’t worry about what comes next. For me and many other recent graduates, there is a feeling that life has changed the rules of the game right at the moment of our greatest triumph.
As the meeting went on though, my attitude began to shift. Some of the older panelists began to discuss their own experiences of unemployment after graduating from university. The idea that a few months of post-graduate economic inactivity would be devastating to an individual’s long term ambitions and prospects was difficult to reconcile with the fact that these stories were coming from the director of a major think tank and an MP. When you enquire a little further, you realise that countless successful people have had a stage of their life in their early twenties where they struggled to find a place in a world that seemingly had no need for them.
By contrast, the panel discussed how periods of unemployment for young non-graduates is genuinely devastating to their long-term career prospects and earning potential. Considering this, and despite the fact that I remain deeply concerned about what I’m going to do after September, I feel a little bit self-indulgent in comparing my plight to that of an under-qualified nineteen-year-old who unsuccessfully applies for zero hours contract after zero hours contract.
Many graduates, with more free time on their hands that they expected after university, or students like me that are scrambling to avoid the abyss ahead of them, chose to get involved in some form of political campaigning. In many ways, this is a fantastic opportunity for us to gain vital skills and to do some good in society while we’re at it. However, in doing so, we must remember that those of us who go to university represent a minority of young people, and so we mustn’t crowd out the voices of other young people from political debate.