It’s almost part of my daily routine – wake up, have breakfast, watch the news, read the paper, check the latest unemployment figures. The International Labour Organisation predicts that the number of 15-24 unemployed by the end of 2011 will be 74.6 million, a rate of 12.6%.
Although this number sits lower than the 12.7% of 2010, the ILO has suggested that since 2010 many young people have given up looking for work and dropped out of the labour market all together. In the month running up to this publication, youth unemployment in Britain rose further and punctured into the million – breaking all records. The repercussions of this significant statistic could be momentous. Fingers of blame are most likely to be pointed back and forth at Westminster with politicians going round and round in circles to attempt to find some sort of answer. One thing that is certain from all of this is that if we fail to utilise the talent, ambition and energy of our younger generations then the problem is going to grow and inevitably affect us all in the long run.
The Prince’s Trust’s director of communications, Paul Brown commented on youth unemployment in the summer of 2011, “Youth unemployment is like a dripping tap, costing tens of millions of pounds a week through benefits and lost productivity. And, just like a dripping tap, if we don’t do something to fix it, it’s likely to get much worse.” Research conducted by the TUC showed that long-term unemployment can have devastating long lasting effects. Those who were out of work for over a year in 1980’s were more likely to be struggling with the current economic crises as opposed to those that had made it through the 80’s economically sound. The report also showed that those who had made it through the crises in employment now earned more than those who struggled for employment.Germany’s rate of youth unemployment sits at 8.9%, the lowest across the European Union, this could well be down to an excellent and well managed vocational training system that is designed to tool their youth with employable skills across a variety of roles. As the British economy struggles with youth unemployment, many are turning their gaze to what other countries are doing to learn and eventually find an answer to this seemingly endless problem. The current government seems to have grasped the importance of work-based learning in order to develop young people with the right skills and as a result have injected more money into the apprenticeship scheme in order to encourage firms to take them up. Although this is currently having little impact – there are only 11 apprentices for every 1,000 employees in the UK, compared to 40 in Germany, where there is no state funding for apprenticeships. So why are employers not taking up these opportunities? A recent survey conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce highlighted on why this could be – even with a lack of workplace skills, many employers felt the scheme wasn’t relevant to their sector and therefore not the answer.
Across Europe, in Austria for example, there are more than 250 apprenticeship trades, ranging from car mechanics to clerks to hairdressers with employers getting a significant input into the design of the course, its content and overall, making sure the skills that are needed are developed. From a student point of view these apprenticeships can evolve into degree programs, increasing the appeal of the system and, in some cases, earning a wage whilst learning.In contrast to this the UK seemingly has far less opportunities for apprentices. The website for UK apprentices states they plan to have over 30,000 19-24 year olds taking up apprenticeships by 2013 – equating to 3.2% of those currently unemployed. Other approaches that have been put in place such as intern roles and work experience to help graduates are at times seen as little more than hiring free labour for a three to six month period, with many feeling like companies have a revolving door of interns, often leaving graduates in the same boat in which they started. March 2011 saw the Private Equity Foundation release its Manifesto for Action for young people who are NEET. The report compiled with sources ranging from local authorities to think tanks to central government. The manifesto proposes recommendations for system wide change in tackling the problem surrounding leadership, investment, delivery and best practice.
The ten recommendations of the Private Equity Foundation Manifesto for Action report:
• Create better coordination – a ‘NEET taskforce’ could coordinate policy
• Focus on prevention – resources allocated according to likelihood of being NEET
• Publish transparent information on performance – objective comparisons of results drives improved delivery
• Increase investment on NEET – longer-term financing for proven interventions
• Reform Commissioning – increase collaboration between local authorities and ser vice providers, create standard processes to reduce red tape
• Grow the best provision – increase networked commissioning and business support for the best providers
• Foster better links to employment – make it easier for employers to engage with young people
• Support case management approach for those most at risk – this will help them to navigate the variety of support services they need
• Improve information on local provision – create clear measures of success locally
• Increase knowledge of what works – establish an anonymous database on the effectiveness of interventions
What next? Shaks Ghosh, PEF chief executive says, “young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are facing a tough jobs market at a time of reduced support services. This issue will continue to be nobody’s priority unless we act together.”It is time to start to make the necessary changes to facilitate our youth, and ultimately the future of our country – starting with leadership. A NEET taskforce with a leading role co-ordinating policy could be a strong starting point. Alongside this we should strive to prevent a young person becoming a NEET, give them the necessary help to find a job or the option of suited education as early as possible. With regular independent audits and a transparent operating system, objectives and results could be easily monitored. Of course there is the constant need for investment, a key element of the problem initially. The voluntary sector needs to have the full support going forward. There needs to be an understanding of the financing options available to tackle the current NEET crises.Finally, and most importantly, there has to be more communication between local authorities and those providing a service. Whether it be an apprenticeship, intern role or education, each party needs to ask the right questions of the other, each party needs to understand exactly what they can do to benefit the growth of the a person. There needs to be plan, action and engagement from all parties, otherwise we’ll all suffer in years to come.