The UK Commission for Employment and Skills issues The Youth Employment Challenge

First published on Mon, July 09, 2012.

Youth unemployment in Britain sits just below the EU average at 22%, but the number of young people out of work has risen steadily since 2005. According to this report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, the economic implications – not to mention the social costs – will be vast: if the problem is not addressed, the cost is estimated to top £28 billion over the next ten years.

So why is youth unemployment so pervasive?

A Changing Job Market

Although exacerbated by economic downturn, the problem is underpinned by long-term structural changes to the job market. Young people have traditionally been employed in sectors such as sales and low-skill elementary occupations, both of which have declined in recent years.

The rising number of graduates is another factor impacting on the way that young people are recruited. As graduates increasingly compete with non-graduates for lower skilled jobs, young people find it more and more difficult to gain vital work experience.

Work Experience

Meanwhile, employers are showing a marked unwillingness to employ young people. Only a quarter have taken on a young person straight from school or college in the past three years. The report found that employers place a significant emphasis on work experience, with 29% of recruiters saying experience is "critical" and a further 45% say it is "significant".

This problem is particularly marked for those seeking work in the creative and cultural sector, which is dominated by small businesses. Smaller businesses are more likely to demand previous work experience: 32% of businesses with fewer than five staff rated previous experience of a similar role as "critical", compared with only 22% of those businesses with 250 or more staff.

Employer Perceptions of Young People

There is a common perception amongst employers that young people are not ‘work ready’ when they leave education. Whilst only a minority of employers actually recruit young people, those who do find them well or very well prepared for work. Of those taking on graduates 82% find them well or very well prepared for work.

Addressing the Issue

In their new pamphlet, Grow Your Own: How Young People Can Work for You, the Commission is calling for every employer in the UK to develop a formal 'youth policy' and recognise that investing in young people will have long term benefits for their businesses, the wider economy and society more generally.

The Commission also advocates a renewed focus on managing the transition between school and work. Currently, only 3% of work experience placements take place in the Creative and Media sector; only the manufacturing and IT sectors account for less at 1% each. If recruitment culture is to change, creative businesses must be supported to engage more with schools to provide not only work experience placements, but mentoring, mock interviews, competitions, project activity and tailored careers advice.

Policy Archive