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'I Applied For 200 Jobs And Only Got One Day's Work'

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Young people are struggling to get a foot on the career ladder as youth unemployment spirals towards 1m | PA

Many young people in the UK feel excluded from the labour market due to a lack of opportunities to gain vital experience, as youth services and education stipends are cut and apprenticeships fail to fill the void.

"Downturn aside, I think there is a gap between the levels of skills and experience of young people and the jobs in the current market, which in general require higher skill levels in the UK," Paul Brown, director at the Prince's Trust, a youth charity.

Many young people who face challenges in early education fall out of the system and struggle to attach to the workforce, suffering from "crushing levels of confidence and aspiration," Brown said.

"Lots of young people are downgrading their aspirations and taking second best. We're seeing graduates who take on possibly not the job they hope to achieve. They downgrade. We've even heard of graduates taking on apprenticeships, and therefore for young people for whom that would be the traditional market no longer have that option. And the ones at the bottom of the pile, the ones with very low levels of skills or experience, there are just no jobs for them at the moment."

18-year old Athena Giddings was "continually unemployed" for nearly two years after leaving school. After a difficult childhood spent in and out of care and looking after her family, she ended up slipping away from formal education.

"Being a young carer had taken its toll on me to the point where I ended up being quite unwell both physically and mentally. It did cause me to be hospitalised," Giddings said. "It got to the point where I started not really attending school that much. It wasn't too bad because I still did leave school with three Cs, four Ds an E and an F, so I did come away from school with some GCSEs but it was a bit of a struggle."

Like many others, she applied for jobs, and kept on applying.

"It's not really like I had a specific job role that I was looking for, it was anything that I was capable of doing that I would apply for," she said. "You never really hear back from employers, let alone get your foot in the door. That was a down, when you're trying hard and you're not getting anywhere."

The UK's trend towards rising youth unemployment has been building since the early 2000s, experts said, and has been exacerbated by the 2009 recession. Unemployment as a whole has been impacted, and the youth tend to suffer disproportionately.

As Steven Kapsos, economist at the International Labour Organisation, said: "Young people in the labour market are typically the first to be let go in an economic contraction. When businesses are letting go of workers, it will be those with less experience, less connections, that will be the first to be let go. And then when businesses start hiring again youth are often the last to find a job, for largely the same reasons. They have less experience, they have less formal and informal contacts."

There are, Kapsos said, proven mechanisms for bringing young people into the workforce and reducing the impact of a downturn.

"There's often a mismatch between the skills that young people exit educational institutions with and those that are needed in the workplace, so boosting spending on training so that they have the skills that are in demand," he said. "Linking up businesses with universities and educational institutions so that businesses can give feedback in terms of the skills that they most need. Employment services is another area where governments can invest, basically so that young people who are looking for work know what jobs are out there, that they are aware of what the opportunities are. Another one is certification systems. A lot of times a young person will leave an educational institution without being able to send a clear signal to an employer what their skills are."

Financial incentives for keeping young people in education have been slashed as part of the UK government's spending cuts, and tuition fees at university have put higher education out of reach of many. Cutbacks to services, such as Connexions, which link young people to potential employers, are also hitting those with fewer formal qualifications.

Bonny Howling, also 18, was briefly with Connexions in Newhaven, East Sussex, before the service closed in the town. Having passed all but one of her GCSEs, Howling started at college but had to drop out due to a lack of financing. She has, she said, applied for more than 200 jobs, and got only one - a single day selling tickets at Brighton Pride - and has been living on jobseekers allowance for a year.

"I've searched up on Gumtree and Friday Ads, looking for anything, waitressing, bar work," she said. "It's very hard to find a job out there."

Howling is now part way through a three-month course with the Princes Trust. Giddings completed the same programme earlier in the year, and she said that it has transformed her options.

"My biggest problem was lack of work experience. When I did hear back from an employer or did a telephone application, a lot of it would be 'do you have any work experience in this sector'," she said. After leaving the course, the charity gave her a £165 grant to pay for a further course with a series of work placements.

"My first placement was at [social care company] NTQUK Ltd. I did a day's work experience on the Wednesday, and on the Friday I was offered a full-time job," she said. "Being given that opportunity to go into a workplace and show somebody that you can work hard and really do well can really pay off. Just doing a day's work experience got me a full time job. I've now been working at NTQUK for seven months, I'm doing my Level 2 NVQ in business administration with them, so they're also offering me training as well as a full-time job."

Her friends and family have not been as fortunate, she added. Her 20-year old brother is still looking for work.

"He is slowly getting on his feet, but really struggling with these employment aspects," she said. "The central thing is to be able to go into a workplace and really show them what you can do… Just because you don't have qualifications it doesn't mean you don't have potential, and it's really hard to show that on a CV. He's got a few more work experience placements, but even with that he really does struggle to show an employer that he is capable of doing a job and being reliable and responsible."

A report earlier in November from the Work Foundation showed that young people were increasingly falling out of education and employment, particularly in areas where joblessness has become persistent. That report said that policies specifically aimed at tackling this growing issue are needed. At the Prince's Trust, Brown said that - with the right resources - it is possible to make real changes at scale.

"There appear to be some young people for whom the education system hasn't worked," he said. "Many of them grow up in areas where few people have jobs, in families where nobody works. The real basic things like confidence, communication, are really lacking in young people. But we also know that things like that can be fixed with the right support."

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