Some much-needed hope for the youth employment market emerged yesterday with the Association of Graduate Employers producing a survey showing an expected 10% growth in job opportunities this year.
While this study is clearly welcome news, the fact we still have a total of 920,0000 young people in the UK aged 16-24 defined as being NEETS (not in education, employment or training) remains deeply worrying.
Though many areas of the South East have in fact weathered the recession with some resilience in terms of the average percentage youth unemployment being a good deal less than the alarming 20% level that has blighted some areas of the country, it’s clear far more support is needed.
While the National Apprenticeship Service has been tasked by government to drive engagement with firms taking on the next generation of potential employees – it is clear that its budgets have been restricted in recent years.
This has had a knock-on effect on its scope of being able to promote just how valuable the addition new young members of staff through formal apprenticeship and higher apprenticeship schemes can be to any company.
Under the present funding structure, businesses are paid £1500 by government per apprentice taken on, which has gone some way to making employing junior staff an easier decision to make in the minds of recruitment managers.
But for those young people who are unable to find a place on such schemes, their options appear somewhat limited in a highly competitive employment market.
This is compounded by many teenagers feeling unable to afford to study on traditional university course, as fees have soared to nearly £10,000 a year – meaning that they will effectively be left with £30,000 worth of debt before even finding suitable employment.
In addition to this, with budgets at colleges, universities and schools across the region coming under huge pressure, there are genuine concerns over the actual levels of career advice in place for young people - who need as much mentoring and encouragement as they can get.
So I for one was particularly shocked to discover that it is no longer compulsory for secondary school pupils aged 14-16 to go on two-week work placements as part of their studies.
Quite what the Department for Education was thinking with this policy is anyone’s guess – especially remarkable given the fact that employers’ have consistently raised job candidates perceived lack of appropriate job skills as a major issue when recruiting for posts (see our report on Sussex Manufacturing Forum’s feedback on key recruitment issues as a considerable example of this).
Furthermore, if you ask a good portion of graduates who have managed to enter the world of work in recent years, then I’ll wager that a large proportion of them had in fact spent some time previously on work experience with the company that eventually took them on.
Beyond this, there are many other factors that have impacted on the unemployment figures for our region’s young people, including the pockets of reported social deprivation that exist in places such as Bognor Regis in West Sussex,
Medway and Thanet in Kent that have served to hinder many young people in terms of their employment prospects.
It’s only when we start to fully tackle such pressing issues that we will arrive at long-term solutions to building sustainable growth for our economy.
As leading entrepreneur Gill Fielding has previously explained – if every SME firm within the UK (amounting to around 4.9 million companies) felt able to take on just one new young employee, then our economy would be completely free of recession. It’s certainly an ambitious goal, but one which we should not lose sight of if we are to prosper.