Tackling Youth Unemployment in the UK Must Be a Priority

19/02/2016 17:34 | Updated 19 February 2016

Unemployment is at a 10 year low, but with young people in the UK still more than twice as likely to be out of work than people of other ages, tackling youth unemployment remains one of the biggest challenges facing the UK's labour market.

A young person starting school today will be competing for employment in fifteen years' time in a world that will probably be unrecognisable to us. Recently consulting firm CBRE predicted that half of today's occupations will no longer exist in 2025, with certain types of process work, customer work and many middle management roles forecast to disappear altogether.

So how do we prepare the next generation for the future when we can't say with any certainty what roles we are preparing them for?

Mindset over Skill set

Above all, we must help young people develop the right mindset to meet the demands of this fast changing world. In my view, mindset is the internal lens through which we see and navigate life. Mindset influences everything we see as well as everything we do.

We surveyed thousands of top employers, including many of the world's best, about what they really look for in their employees. Given the choice between someone with the desired mindset who lacks the complete skill set for the job, and someone with the complete skill set who lacks the desired mindset, a total of 96% of the employers surveyed picked mindset over skill set as the key element in those they seek and retain. Mindset utterly trumps skill set. Not by a little, but by a landslide.

However, when Reed in Partnership recently asked over 2,000 young people across the UK the same question, three out of five placed skill set ahead of mindset. This highlights a glaring disparity between what young people consider important and what employers are actually looking for.

Beyond qualifications

The mismatch between what employers are looking for and young people's expectations is a consequence of both the failure of the careers system and the lack of business involvement in education.

Our young people are in an education system that too often views achievement through the narrow prism of qualifications alone. This is reinforced by society's expectations of success; every summer we see newspaper headlines heralding and/or questioning the A-level pass rates.

In a recent REED report 'Young people and employment', the most common view expressed by young people about the careers advice they received at school was that it was too focused on directing them towards university.

Our research also found that young people consider their primary barrier to employment to be a lack of experience. Many are frustrated by the 'Catch 22' of being told by employers they need experience before having the opportunity to gain it.

Teaching 'soft skills'

While employers recognise they have a responsibility to train young people for specific roles, they expect young people to be 'work ready' in terms of soft employability skills such as communication and teamwork. Developing these life and employability skills should be considered as an equally important ingredient of a good education as accumulating qualifications.

These important life skills are often not developed successfully in schools, so many young people rely on outside experiences to acquire them. This means that children from middle class families, who are able to benefit from their parents' professional networks, will often enter the world of work with a head start.

A study by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission reported that "private school education bestows a 'little something extra'" which aids recruitment, by which they mean 'soft skills' and a familiarity with business and social environments.

In 2014, 70% of jobs offered by elite law, accountancy and financial firms went to applicants from private or selective schools, even though such schools only educate 11% of the population.

However, the wider education system should not be excused from its role in levelling the playing field. Our schools need to provide young people with the complete range of 'soft skills' to compete in the jobs market. And above all, they need to help their students develop a winning mindset.

Preparing for the future

High quality careers advice and work experience must become central to the curriculum.
Day in day out we see how important having the right mindset and good soft skills are in today's job market. And mindset is going to become even more important in the years to come.

We cannot know what careers our children will be embarking on a decade from now. But we can prepare young people for the future by focusing them on developing the very thing that we know employers are looking for right now - the right mindset. This is because mindset is timeless and universal. An individual with the right mindset will develop the skill set required for the roles of the future. Employers already know this, which is why such individuals are so sought after.

There will be no easy fix to future proof the next generation of workers. It will require a fundamental rethink of how our schools educate children and how our society measures success.