This issue is extremely complex so can’t be solved by just one approach; therefore, I suggest that several ideas and proposals are needed to meet the overall solution. The aim is to encourage employers to employ more young people, by creating new opportunities and upskilling candidates, improving their future career prospects and employment chances in this unpredictable market.
My first proposal is to create a National Youth Taskforce. The basis of this idea is that there would be a nationwide scheme for matching 16–21-year-olds into voluntary work placements. This would be government funded. Placements could be offered in different employment sectors; e.g., education, healthcare, business and agriculture. Companies or services such as the NHS would offer unpaid work placements targeted at 16-21yr olds which would offer them invaluable work experience, training and provide references for future employment. This could be run via a centralised website, where you can apply for the voluntary work and view all the opportunities available in your area. This scheme could be advertised in schools, colleges and social media. A placement offered to everyone in the 16-21 age range to gain experience in a sector they are interested in. It could be particularly beneficial to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those who have never previously been employed.
In parallel, my second suggestion would be to implement free to access web-based training scheme, aimed at 16-21 yr olds. This could include offering nationally recognised qualifications, branded as a vocational qualification toolkit. For example, offering: First Aid courses, lifeguard qualifications (NPLQ), sports coaching, refereeing, and TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) courses. These extra qualifications would be helping all young people (no matter their background) to develop/enhance their CVs with skills and training which will make them more employable, and allow them to compete more effectively with older, more experienced job seekers. This scheme could build on the learning of Oak National Academy which was created during Covid. It offered free, high-quality educational lessons and resources throughout 2020/21 lockdown. There are nearly 10,000 free video lessons, resources and activities, covering most subjects, from Reception to Year 11. This demonstrates that large scale educational resources can be created and made accessible to all.
My third option is for Government to actively invest in youth job creation in emerging /future employment sectors, such as renewable energy, AI + technology, health and social care, recycling and waste management. The rate of these sectors expansion will be influenced by the UK’s target of net zero emission by 2050. This target follows the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan to create and support 250,000 jobs whilst helping to eradicate our contribution to climate change. However, it’s critical that these newly emerging sector jobs are accessible to the youth. This could be achieved by encouraging apprenticeships, perhaps creating government-subsidised ‘ring-fenced roles’ exclusively for ‘1st time employees’, similar to the ‘1st time buyers’ concept, to help them get on the employment ladder. This idea may be seen as controversial, as it may be seen as discriminatory by some, but could act as a safety net and prevent long term unemployment growing in the younger generations.
A final comment, is that the challenge of youth unemployment is not just a UK issue and other solutions could be found outside the UK – looking at how other countries manage this, and adapting and implementing any successful schemes here in the UK. This was explored by The Economist, in an article ‘How to make a social safety net for the post-covid world’. It suggests “Governments need to find mechanisms that cushion people more effectively against income shocks and joblessness without discouraging work, or crushing economic dynamism”. The article used the example of Denmark, which spends large sums –1.9% of GDP in 2018- on retraining and on advising the jobless. This high level of Government expenditure could be effective, as Danish youth unemployment fell to 10.5 % in 2018, well below the EU average of 15.2 %. The Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitment states that these lower levels of youth unemployment are related to “an active labour market policy which has been developed over the past decades. It is based upon early intervention and a widespread use of mandatory activation (participation in skills and vocational retraining), especially for young people. In addition, interventions are in place that target young people who are inactive on the labour market but who are not yet registered as unemployed.” It would be good to explore this further, as well as, looking globally for other effective solutions.
To conclude, in my view, the Covid crisis has increased the urgency to provide the UK’s youth with adequate opportunities to gain vital skills, work experience and access to employers. By targeting 16-21yr olds, in or out of full-time education, with free training, volunteering placements and new emerging sector job roles, this will help qualify and motivate our youth and create a domino effect of more and better employment opportunities, helping to reduce record youth unemployment levels, exacerbated by this pandemic.