by Stewart Segal, Chair, Youth Employment UK

As the government prepares to announce new back to work measures, Stewart Segal, Chair, Youth Employment UK makes the case for extending current job schemes to assist young people not in full time education to secure a job. 

The pandemic over the last two years has had a major impact on the employment prospects of young people.   

Many have had to cope with the huge disruption in the job market, especially those entering the market for the first time.   

The pandemic affected the working life of everyone, but most people accept that it is the youngest and those who need most support who have suffered the most.   

As the job market has recovered, it is true that 16-24 year olds have gained jobs. But what is striking is that the jobs recovery for young people has been concentrated on those in full-time education rather than those who are not. 

It is young people who are not in full-time education who will need continued support through Kickstart, Apprenticeship subsidies and traineeships to find a job throughout 2022 at the very least. 

In the twelve months to September-November 2021, over 106,000 full-time students aged 16-17 found jobs and 48,000 full-time students aged 18-24 did the same. 

By comparison, there were 10,000 fewer 16-17 year-olds in jobs outside of full-time education, whilst the number of 18-24 year-olds in jobs but not in full-time education increased by no more than 3,000 (and this rise includes those already on the Kickstart scheme).  

Pulling the plug too soon 

The Government’s response to the pandemic through the Plan for Jobs is providing some impetus to respond to the challenge but there are many signs from government that, for young people in particular, that support may well be removed too soon.  

The basis of the argument presented by the Chancellor is that there are over 1 million vacancies in the labour market and young people are getting jobs. Therefore, programmes such as Kickstart, Traineeship and Apprenticeship incentives will be removed.  

This would be a big mistake. So far, young people getting jobs are those in full-time education. In addition, when sectors experience skills shortages they often try and recruit experienced people. 

Kickstart, Traineeships and Apprenticeship incentives are targeted on those who are not in full-time education and it is this group of young people who still need help.  

It takes a long time for the job infrastructure to create entry routes for young people.  The focus at the moment for many employers is to go for experience so people hit the ground running.  The census at Youth Employment UK showed that young people are still finding it difficult to find suitable vacancies in their area. 

Extending support 

The best option for any young person entering or progressing in the workplace is a job with full training support.   

We have to extend the incentives for employers and providers to create the opportunities for young people and make the transition from Traineeships and Kickstart much more flexible to use the incentives for the benefit of young people.   

Too often new programmes such as Kickstart are not integrated with the existing programmes such as Traineeships and Apprenticeships, especially when these programmes are run by different departments such as the DfE and DWP.   

We need to look at clear career paths from school, where we are going to see a lot more of T Levels, and the different support programmes.  We need to facilitate these career paths using the expertise in employers and training providers to manage that process. 

We have to put even more emphasis on providing support for those that have a learning need.   

The pandemic has created new ways of working which often create additional stress and strain.  Working from home when you don’t have much experience of work is not easy.  We should be encouraging even more flexible ways of supporting everyone in the workplace, but especially young people. 

Many young people, particularly in school, have missed two years of careers work and have had very little experience of the workplace.  This needs to be addressed over the next couple of years; although I have huge sympathy with schools as they try and balance the huge pressures of recovery and catch up.   

And let us not forget that many young people already in the workplace have to catch up as well.  The government forget the catch up needed for these young people just because they are not at school.  

If you are wondering how this extended support will be funded, then you need look no further than the underspend on apprenticeships. Government has collected a lot more Apprenticeship Levy than they have spent in the last two years.  I can’t think of a better way of spending that money on young people and the programmes that will enable them to be the apprentices of the future. 

The next phase of recovery 

The next phase of recovery from the pandemic is the most important for young people.  We have to integrate the different support programmes using the organisations on the ground that are working with those young people. And we have to extend and retain the incentives to ensure that young people get a fair chance of repairing some of the damage they have experienced over the last few years.   

Who knows where the government will be in a day, a week or a month’s time.  Let us hope that nothing stops the urgent need to respond to the challenge. Young people have resilience, innovation and drive but they deserve the support of the government and the rest of the sector over the next few years.   

Those in government must listen to the sector and work with us. But most importantly they must listen to young people. 

Stewart Segal is Chair of Youth Employment UK 

Published 26th January 2022