Youth unemployment continues to be a real problem for the young people of Britain. Whilst unemployment figures, in general, are falling – down to 2.02m in the latest statistics released – young people continue to make up a significant proportion of people without work. 16.9% of young people are currently out of work, in comparison the nationwide average of 6.4%. Without being rectified, this situation will lead to the creation of a vast swathe of people left without prospects and without any path to follow. Creating this kind of hole for young people to fall into, or at least failing to show them a way out, will only lead to further, less manageable problems.
The 99% Campaign have written a policy statement which we think offers a route towards solving the issue of youth unemployment, not just in the short-term but for the foreseeable future. Too often when it comes to trying to resolve a problem we look for an immediate fix rather than looking further down the line and showing some patience in our response. In our opinion, what is needed is an approach which looks at the immediate issue and tries to help those in need, but also looks at what will continue to happen if certain things are not changed within the system, and the problems that will continue to occur.
Our statement offers three recommendations which are listed below. These recommendations came about through discussions with 99% Campaign volunteers, forums with secondary school students in London, and surveys with a variety of young people – ranging from school students to university graduates. The information we collected formed the basis of our arguments and highlighted the areas in which the current system is severely lacking, such as careers advice and access to opportunities. From this basis, we came up with our three recommendations:
- Start early: Focus on primary education
- Proactive, tailored careers advice
- Create new school boards
The link between primary education and unemployment might not be initially obvious, but if you consider that a significant proportion of students leave primary school below the expected level of basic literacy and numeracy, and the extra problems and stress this creates for secondary schools, then it might become clearer. Without these basic skills at the start of their secondary school career, students are already behind their classmates, and remain behind throughout their time at secondary school, as they are constantly playing catch-up. There are also the behavioural issues or learning difficulties which are not dealt with properly at primary school (perhaps due to a lack of funding or a lack of capacity) which then are passed to the secondary schools were it is often more difficult to manage them and help the student adapt. These issues must be noticed and tackled early in a child’s life to enable them to deal with it, and progress at the correct level rather than being left behind. Without the basic interpersonal skills that a child should develop through primary education, they are at risk of falling behind at each subsequent stage, and therefore at risk of falling into unemployment when they leave school.
Careers advice has been an on-going issue with schools for years. OFSTED have revealed that 75% of schools had no comprehensive strategy for careers advice and no plan to implement one in the near future. Less than a third of the young people we spoke to had had contact with a careers advisor, and more often than not this was simply a teacher who had a spare hour, rather than a specialist. This is a real problem. Without access to good quality, specialist careers advice students are left to fend for themselves, often with no real knowledge of what options they have or where to go to access such options. Too often students are pushed towards university when this might not be the right route for them, so something needs to be done to help. Alongside this is the issue of the Job Centre. At the moment, it works primarily as a box-checking service to hand out money, or, in some cases, try to stop the hand out of money. Having spoken to university graduates who were unemployed after graduating, there was a complete disregard for their qualifications and skills when they went to the Job Centre and they were pushed to apply for jobs which required no specialist training, rather than towards opportunities which would benefit their career prospects and skill development. The Job Centre should work more closely with an individual to give personalised advice and find a more suitable job or training opportunity.
The school boards idea is that a closer link could be made between schools, their local community, and local businesses, to provide training and employment opportunities for young people in their local area. With representatives from schools, the local authority, and local businesses, the board would coordinate efforts to offer work experience, and perhaps create an alumni structure for secondary schools where former students would return to mentor current students or, if possible, offer work placements. This is an idea which is actually already in place at some schools, thanks to the work of Future First, but we hope it is something that can be rolled out nationwide.
We are hopeful that this statement will make an impact on youth unemployment, and we have held a number of meetings with MPs and members of the House of Lords which have been positive and very helpful in collecting feedback. We still have a few meetings to come, but we are looking at getting a commitment from a party/parties to take our recommendations on board as they create their manifesto for the next General Election.
(Featured Image taken from Flickr)