Heading off youth unemployment
by Matt Grist
We found out this morning that unemployment rose again in the three months to January 2011. We also found out that youth unemployment has continued to rise, now standing at 20.6 per cent of the 16-24 cohort who are available to work. Two weeks ago we predicted that around 230,000 young people from each 16-18 cohort were studying for low-level qualifications that would give them no advantage in the labour market and may even damage their chances of finding a job. Our findings were confirmed by Professor Alison Wolf who in her recent Review found that around 350,000 young people from each 16-19 cohort are in this parlous situation. Moreover, the youth labour market has imploded, with almost no young people working prior to being 18 years old.
As a reaction to this implosion (or perhaps partly as a cause of it) nearly all young people who don’t go to university are staying in education until 18 or 19 years old. Yet our system has not caught up with this fact, nor prepared programmes of study that provide structured transitions from school to work. As a result, our report The Forgotten Half found that there are several areas of policy that require urgent attention.
We need better, earlier and more objective advice about careers and educational pathways; earlier, targeted mentoring and coaching to support those at risk from disengagement from education. We need better links between schools and businesses as well as better and more joined-up work experience to raise aspirations and clarify expectations. We need much more emphasis on teaching maths and English - these are not merely ‘academic’ subjects, they are crucial skills for the labour market – and we need more creative pedagogies for these subjects and much more ambition about teaching them post-16 (e.g. as part of apprenticeships). We need many more employer-led apprenticeships with clear general educational and ‘transferable skills’ elements.
Finally, we need to develop a combination of measures for holding schools accountable and which cater for those at the top and bottom as opposed to only those in the middle. The English Baccalaureate may actually be useful in this regard – aimed only at the most ‘academic’ 30 per cent of pupils, it is germane to being combined with other measures (such as four good GCSEs with English and maths; Higher Diplomas).
There are many other findings and recommendations in the report, not least a warning that youth unemployment cannot be tackled by education policy alone. Consequently, we also recommend reducing employers’ National Insurance contributions for 16-25 year-olds, so as to encourage the creation of more entry-level jobs.