How can we address youth unemployment following the Covid-19 pandemic?
Youth unemployment is arguably an emergency and one of the greatest challenges facing the UK today, creating enormous inequalities and divisions between class distinctions and income brackets. The emergence of Covid-19 has exacerbated the existing inequalities of youth unemployment here in the United Kingdom. Policy makers should be making it a priority to turn their attention to this issue, affecting over half a million young people within the 16-24 age bracket (Powell, 2021). Although the levels of young people currently out of work are at their highest since the year 2016, historically the overall youth employment rates lag behind the rest of the general population. Covid-19 has intensified an existing pressing issue, which yet remains to be thoroughly planned and executed.
‘We need to act now, to ensure that all young people can access high quality employment, careers and training support, and are guaranteed the offer of a decent job before they become long-term unemployed’ (Wilson, 2020)
According to the Nuffield Foundation (2021), unless major new support is formulated and implemented on a large-scale and long-term basis, an additional 600,000 18-24-year-olds are at risk of unemployment in the coming year, consequently having knock-on effects on the economy and on the mental health crisis for years after. It appears that lots of people are concerned about youth unemployment, but a lack of direction and discussion creates an illusion to the general public that no one in particular is in charge or can be held to account regarding progression. Report data by The Prince’s Trust shows that 32 per cent of young people aged 16-24 are “overwhelmed” by feelings of panic and anxiety on a daily basis and 70 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds are experiencing more anxiety than usual, with more than a quarter fearing that their career prospects have been damaged long-term (Young people in lockdown, 2021).
In September 2020, the government launched a scheme named ‘Kickstart’, providing funding to employers to create job placements for 16 to 24-year olds on Universal Credit (Kickstart Scheme, 2021).A criticism on this seemingly “one size fits all” approach on youth unemployment is that needs to be re-evaluated and scrutinised in further depth to take into account the increasingly negative mind-set of young people’s attitude to work. A similar scheme was created in 2011 by the government of Ireland termed ‘JobBridge’. The scheme was discontinued after five years and replaced with a more targeted scheme due to several flaws (Purcell, 2011). Less than half of young people on the JobBridge scheme said that it had helped them to get a permanent job or improve their overall general career prospects (McDonald, 2020). The JobBridge scheme holding many similarities to Kickstart should be considered when approaching the issue of youth unemployment and moving forward to a more sustainable and robust model.
The notion of adaptability through work and the suggestion of retraining has been met with some hostility by the country. The controversial government campaign encouraging people to ‘rethink, reboot and reskill’ in order to adapt to the changing economy following the Covid-19 pandemic received wide-spread criticism and outrage (Peat, 2020). This shows that “a one size fits all” solution is arguably not the correct approach to solving the unemployment crisis and more applicably, the growing problem of youth unemployment. However, it is evident that there is validity in this campaign message of rethinking and retraining. As a response to the changing nature of work due to a multitude of factors, young people will increasingly need to upskill and reskill throughout their lives.
The government should be focusing their attention away from the one size fits all approach, instead focusing on implementing a tailored approach geared towards councils and local enterprise partnerships, addressing the varying impact of Covid-19 on youth unemployment and the changing job market which fluctuates with respect to geographical location. An enquiry into Adult Skills and Lifelong Learning (ASALL) was launched in March 2020 by the House of Commons Education Committee outlining the benefits of adult community learning. It highlights that 38% of adults have not participated in any learning since leaving full-time education. In light of this statistic, four key pillars were identified including an ambitious plan for a ‘community learning centre in every town’. Borrowing from the idea of community learning and the urgent need to focus on “establishing stronger ‘transition systems’ between education and work” (O'Connor, 2015), the concept of online ‘community learning centres’ is particularly notable, providing employability skills and training in various fields for young people out of employment, with emphasis on the growing cyber security and AI sector where skill gaps are prominent. Unlocked access to relevant job markets where new-found skills can be implemented through company trainee schemes and apprenticeships may encourage young people to pursue a new career direction with confidence post Covid-19.
As the economic climate changes and continues to change in the future, funding for developing new and innovative approaches for the scheme to remain relevant as an initial step towards work need to be taken into account. Labour market opportunities should be closely monitored and would need to evolve to reflect careers available on an area-based provision as well as nationwide. Working on focusing efforts on a local basis to tackle youth unemployment would ultimately benefit the economy as a whole, helping to reshape and restore the labour market for future generations.
Committees.parliament.uk. 2021. A plan for an adult skills and lifelong learning revolution. [online] Available at: <https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/4090/documents/40532/default/> [Accessed 28 January 2021].
GOV.UK. 2021. Kickstart Scheme. [online] Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/kickstart-scheme> [Accessed 28 January 2021].
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Nuffield Foundation. 2021. COVID-19 pandemic could increase youth unemployment by 600,000 this year | Nuffield Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/news/covid-19-pandemic-could-increase-youth-unemployment-by-600000-this-year> [Accessed 27 January 2021].
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Trust, T., 2020. Young people in lockdown. 1st ed. London: Prince's Trust, pp.1-8.
Trust, T., 2020. Young people’s anxiety increases as fears for future employment prospects mount, warns the prince’s trust | News and views | About The Trust | The Prince's Trust. [online] Princes-trust.org.uk. Available at: <https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/about-the-trust/news-views/young-people-in-lockdown> [Accessed 28 January 2021].
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