What is the state of play for young people looking for work?

A recent report by the Education and Employment Taskforce, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, and b-live, which surveyed around 11,000 young people mainly aged 13 to 16 about their career ambitions, found a marked mismatch between young people’s ambitions and the future jobs market. The upshot is that teenagers are in danger of pursuing careers in industries that are likely to have few jobs available in the future. This comes hot on the heels of news that young people are bearing the brunt of the jobs crisis, with the number of unemployed youngsters up 48,000 and approaching a million again.


Managing expectations

The report found 21% of those aged 15 and 16 are looking for work in culture, media and sport, yet only 2.4% of jobs in the UK economy are projected to be in this sector. At the other end of the scale, almost 10% of new and replacement jobs are expected to be in administrative professions, and a similar proportion of careers will be in the area of “corporate managers and directors”, but very few youngsters want a job in these sectors. Of course, it’s natural to have aspirations to work in a sector you find interesting, but what is apparent is that we need to be managing young people’s expectations without killing off their desire to innovate and achieve.

“As a country we are doing our young people a huge disservice if we don’t give them enough information to allow then to make proper informed decisions about their futures. Far too many young people are having to make vital and incredibly important decisions about their futures without enough access to good and reliable information,” said Nick Chambers, director of the Education and Employers Taskforce.


Who is to blame?

Recent figures also highlight the fact that the UK has the one of the worst levels for youth unemployment in the developed world, with just Spain and Greece experiencing higher levels in the OECD. In addition, the UK has experienced the fastest rise in youth unemployment of any country in the G8 since the start of the recession. However, another recent report, this time by the Work Foundation, claims the youth unemployment problem in Britain cannot be blamed on the recession alone.

Its author Lizzie Crowley said: “In many other developed nations, youth unemployment has remained low despite the global downturn. However, in the UK youth unemployment as a proportion of 15-24 year olds has increased at a faster rate over the course of the recession than both the European and OECD averages.

“While the reasons for this are complex, it’s clear that the UK can learn from the experiences of those countries that have fared much better in terms of youth unemployment. The government should focus on those policies that have been shown to work, cherry-picking the best responses from other countries and adapting them to the needs of the UK labour market.”


Graduate skills shortage

Despite this, research conducted by totaljobs.com entitled ‘Mind the gap in 2017′ identified that 61% of companies are having trouble recruiting entry-level talent. Couple this with the fact that there are going to be fewer 18-year-olds in four years’ time, and you have the beginnings of a fairly hefty problem.

Totaljobs.com brought a panel of experts together to discuss the situation, including: Carl Gilleard, Chief executive of the AGR; Jonathan Black, Director of careers services at Oxford University; Alex Bols, Executive director of the 1994 Group; Jessie Buscombe, Head of development at the National Apprenticeship Service; and Dr Norman Apsley, Chief executive of the Northern Ireland Science Park.

The two main themes that emerged from the discussions were that employers and educators are simply expecting too much of graduates these days and that everyone needs to pull together to help fill the skills gap. One key failing appears to be that graduates don’t always leave university with a career firmly in their mind, as Carl Gilleard put it: “Graduates eventually move towards the job they feel their degree prepared them for. But it can take years.”

There could be a number of factors at play here, but one question that keeps recurring is, with so many people now going to university and getting degrees, are we devaluing the whole process? The Totaljobs.com panel saw apprenticeships as a possible way forward, and Jessie Buscombe pointed out that “most employers are looking for apprentices to fill entry-level jobs that graduates might not want”, but also suggested that we shouldn’t look at university and apprenticeships as mutually exclusive. In Germany, for example, apprenticeships are given equal billing to university education, but they don’t compete with each other.

This could help with one of the big problems for young people today; that many of the entry level jobs that have traditionally helped young people into work – waiters, bar staff, retail assistants and so on – are stagnating or in long-term decline. This makes it much harder for young people to take their first steps onto the career ladder. What young people need more than anything is experience, and right now they are caught in the Catch 22 position of no experience, no job; no job, no experience.


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