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Jane Scott Paul

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Youth Unemployment and the 'Lost Generation'

Posted: 24/04/2012 16:23

Youth unemployment is a global problem. In the UK, NEET figures are at a record high. In some countries of the Arab world 90% of 16-24-year-olds are unemployed. In the United States the youth unemployment rate is 23% and in Spain nearly 50%. The problem is very much a worldwide issue with everyone feeling the full force of the recession and slow economic recovery.

While we have to accept that there is no immediate solution to this ever growing problem, we can delve into some of the issues creating it.

The schooling system and higher education system here in the UK is in the firing line. We need to ask if the education system is giving our young people what they need to get the best possible chance in the working world. It feels at times that there is little correlation between the education system and the job market. There is a skill shortage in the UK but an excess of unemployed graduates. University courses have been led by demand so we've had an influx of people embarking on 'softer subject' degrees which don't necessarily lead into a specific field of work.

Last year, a report that AAT commissioned with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) revealed that since the start of the recession in 2008, the unemployment rate among new graduates has doubled to over 20%, with 59,000 of them out of work. Furthermore, about 40% or 95,000 new graduates are 'underemployed' in low skilled jobs.

Youth unemployment may also be exacerbated by our benefit system. We have a whole host of people that are reliant on this assistance and are discouraged from working/increasing hours at work or entering into education because they will lose their unemployment benefit. Does this provoke a shift in attitude in which young people believe that it's okay not to work? If they believe there are no jobs, do they stop trying to find one? There is also the problem of young people applying for jobs and not receiving any response, losing confidence altogether and giving up.

Our NEETs have been labelled the 'lost generation'. Their sense of exclusion is having an impact on society. A report by Demos in 2010 - An anatomy of youth, explained that young people were becoming alienated from society, set to inherit a set of social, economic and political challenges. In 2011, we witnessed the August riots and a large majority of defendants coming before magistrates' courts were under the age of 25. Young people admitted to being angry and violent because they couldn't see a bright future. Instead, they saw a future with no education, no jobs, and no money.

The stagnant job market has meant that we have been encouraging young people to be more proactive and entrepreneurial creating their own future job prospects. But the problem is we don't teach young people to be their own bosses and offer little or no mentoring. This makes it tricky for a large majority of young people to turn their dreams into reality and the biggest barrier is of course, money. We loan out vast amounts of money for young people to have a university education but we make it extremely hard for a young person to obtain a loan to develop a great business proposition.

This month (April) we'll witness the full implementation of the 'youth contract' in which Nick Clegg has been urging businesses of varying sizes to get on board and offer young people training opportunities. There has been a wage subsidy offered to these businesses but will it actually work? Is it a case of a little too late?

If we look to Germany, youth unemployment is below 10%. Young people enter a system of education which offers a variety of options including academic and vocational learning which is more aligned with the job market and skills needed for economic stability and growth. They also have a highly successful and respected apprenticeship system which is valued. Young people in Germany are trained into professions from a much younger age and have a better understanding of where their education leads.

Meanwhile, the Dutch have adopted an approach that considers youth unemployment to be unacceptable. Young people are expected to be in work or education/training and there is no third option. By offering financial assistance to the under-27 market to support them during education and training, the Netherlands now holds the lowest unemployment rate for this age group in the European Union, half the rate of the UK.

Back at home, it mustn't come as too much of a surprise that young people lack motivation and confidence when they leave education and then realise it doesn't necessarily lead anywhere. There is little independent careers advice for school leavers who decide not to go down the university route. We have produced a society of overly confident graduates that believe they'll land a job after university and then are demoralised when this doesn't happen. We can hardly blame them for feeling this way after they've invested so much in the university system.

We need to offer young people more choices to enable them to fulfil their potential. We - society, businesses, young people - must take note from our neighbouring countries and play our part to take more responsibility to align education to jobs and careers. Young people need to be motivated to think about their education earlier and to see multiple options - vocational learning, apprenticeships, university. More importantly, they need to feel free to follow the option that is best suited to them as an individual. The results will be a generation of young people no longer 'lost' but passionate, positive and contributing more fully to all of society.

 
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