Youth unemployment is at record levels and the truth is that this is not purely a result of the recession or austerity measures; in fact, youth unemployment has been rising since the early 2000s. If we are to stop this trend and fix the deeper structural issues surrounding youth unemployment we need to focus our attention on another scandal in our communities: the large number of young people who are failing to make a successful transition from school into the world of work. Many young people are being let down. They are leaving school without the skills or experience employers are looking for and ultimately, this is fuelling an even greater youth unemployment crisis.
Through our programme called ThinkForward, which places super coaches in schools who work with young people most at risk of not making a successful transition into work, we have learnt that there is no single answer or easy fix. But there are some simple things which can be done to help young people navigate their way from education into the labour market.
1. Start young – from the age of 14 years when young people are making GCSE decisions they need information about the types of jobs in their local area and guidance on the skills, experience and qualifications required for entry into these jobs. They also need space to discuss their future career goals and aspirations with teachers, mentors and professionals who will inspire them to succeed.
2. Contact with employers – research by the Education and Employers task force found that young people who recalled ‘four or more employer contacts’ were five times less likely to be NEET. The tragedy is that only 7% of those questioned recalled four such activities taking place. Surely, those of us who who work in schools, voluntary organisations and the business community could together provide opportunities for young people to have meaningful experiences of work. As we have found through ThinkForward, this can include activities as simple as visiting a workplace or having a local business leader speak at a school to more involved activities such as having a dedicated mentor or completing a work experience placement.
3. Responsibility for post-sixteen destinations – the pressures schools face to achieve GCSE results coupled with recent changes to the provision of careers education and guidance mean there is little room in the curriculum for ’employability skills’. Yet if young people don’t learn these skills during their time at school, how can we expect them to be work ready when they leave? Businesses and charities must play their part and schools also must ensure they are giving young people the very best chance of future success once they walk through the school gates for the final time.
4. Extra support for the most vulnerable – our ThinkForward super coaches support young people most at risk of making a successful transition, from the age of fourteen through to nineteen. We believe this continuity of support helps young people not only get a job or college course but to stay with it. There has been much criticism of employment programmes that last for three or six months with no ongoing support. For those furthest away from the labour market, having a named coach who will stick with them and help them navigate the complexities of their personal life and the world of work can make the difference between a young person making a successful transition from school into work or getting stuck in a gap unemployment with significantly reduced prospects.
Rhian Johns is the Policy and Communications Director at Private Equity Foundation and will be speaking at The Work Foundation and Private Equity Foundation’s next fringe event at the Labour Party Conference.