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An employee's market? Long term unemployment for young people is still higher than pre-pandemic

Hooray for all the people taking advantage of the 1.2 million job openings, but young people who face severe barriers into employment are being pushed even further away.

One in five 18-year-olds is not in education, employment or training. Image: Centrepoint

The record number of job vacancies in the UK paints a picture of a world of opportunities for young people. But new data shows one in eight of those aged 18 to 24 are not in education, employment or training (NEET).

For 18-year-olds, the figure rises to one in five. At no point this century have fewer than one in 10 young people been NEET, regardless of the strength of the jobs market, according to youth charity Impetus.

The number of young people unemployed for more than a year in July to September this year has increased by 19 per cent, according to the latest figures from the ONS, compared to those who were unemployed for more than a year in the same period in 2019. 

Urgent action on youth unemployment is needed, and the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee has called for wide-ranging reforms to careers guidance, apprenticeships, and the national curriculum in a newly released report.

“Youth unemployment has blighted our society for decades and its impact can endure for years. At 11.7 per cent, the UK’s youth unemployment rate continues to be worse than many other countries, and today more than one in eight [12.6 per cent] of our under 25s are neither working nor in full-time study,” said Lord Shipley, chair of the committee. 

Job vacancies are rising, from 1.1 million in October to 1.2 million a month later, and a staggering seven in 10 employees said they felt confident about moving to a new role in the next few months. 

Rates of job-to-job moves are at their highest, and a recruitment crisis is forcing employers to rethink how they can make their job offers more attractive to in-demand workers, and look further afield to fill their vacancies. And employees are feeling so empowered to ditch unsuitable jobs they’re hading in their resignation letters in record numbers in a phenomenon dubbed The Great Resignation.

James Timpson, who has employed ex-prisoners in his stores for 20 years, has said that Timpsons is “finding it harder to recruit great people from prison because so many other companies are now knocking on their doors too.”

But companies taking a chance on people who, for a long time, they might have written off, seem to stop at young people who are furthest from the labour market. So what’s going wrong?

“It’s reassuring that as the hospitality industry and other sectors opened their doors in the summer, more jobs became available and youth unemployment decreased,” said Balbir Chatrik, director of policy at youth homelessness charity Centrepoint.

“That positive headline aside, there remains cause for concern when it comes to longer-term youth unemployment, which continues to be above pre-pandemic levels.” 

David Parks, who runs the Skill Mill, a social enterprise that employs young people with convictions to do environmental conservation work, says he’s not seeing general demand from employers translate into more opportunities for his graduates. 

“When it comes to young offenders… if you’re someone who has an HGV licence and you get convicted, you’ve still got something employers want. But these kids, they’ve got nothing an employer wants,” said Parks. 

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The young people helped by the Skill Mill are among the furthest from the jobs market; many have zero qualifications or have been convicted for eleven or more offences, including serious offences such as robbery or violence.

Yet just 17 of the 225 people helped by The Skill Mill have been reconvicted, saving the taxpayer over £90 million, and showing that the right approach works. And that approach, according to Parks, is simply to give them a job. 

The government’s £500m plan for jobs had a plethora of training and apprenticeship schemes, from the Kickstart scheme that funds six-month work placements for people on universal credit (UC), and apprenticeships in artificial intelligence. 

“They have had a benefit but they’re winding up now. The last applications [for Kickstart] are on December 6, so what next?” asks Steve Haines, director of public affairs at Impetus.

We are starting to see an emerging downward trend of “chronic long term youth unemployment,” he continued, something we “should all be worrying about.”

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