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The Government Must Use the Internet to Save Our 'Lost Generation'

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There was more bad news for our "lost generation" this week as the latest figures revealed youth unemployment had risen for the first time since summer, another hint that 2013 will be a long hard slog - for the under 25s in particular.

We learnt 957,000 young people are now out of work - that's more than six times the population of Oxford - and 265,000 of these have been out of work for more than one year. Astonishingly 431,000 have been unemployed for more than six months and 420,100 have joined the dole queue.

This is one of the biggest problems of our time. A recent Million Jobs/YouGov poll showed that voters think youth unemployment is the third most important issue facing the country - behind the economy and immigration.

And no wonder when 1 in 5 of our 2012 graduate's risk long-term unemployment, and in the last 30 years at least 500,000 16-24 year olds have been out of work at any one time. Yet the latest Million Jobs findings show that 80% of people think the government's policy is ineffective; just 1% say that it is working very well.

On top of this we are confronted with an especially grim economic outlook for 2013. By all accounts Britain will imminently lose its triple A credit rating likely fuelling a climate of uncertainty amongst business, and meaning they are less likely to take a chance on inexperienced youth. This is compounded by the demise of our high street staples; Blockbuster, HMV, Jessops which will likely hit young people and part-time workers.

So it is crucial that we make a bigger, bolder effort to combat this most toxic issue. The effects of having nearly one million young people without work are felt sorely by individuals and their families, and will ripple through communities, society and the economy today and for years to come. We need to get creative, think outside of the box and find the most effective solutions.

Last week in a speech to the House of Lords, Lord Chadlington highlighted the use of digital tools to combat youth unemployment. His argument was two-fold; the internet, and in particular social media, can be used to "skill-up" our youth and ensure they have access to the best careers advise, support and are matched to the right job opportunities in their areas. Secondly, our young people have grown up naturally attuned to a new digital world. They inherently possess the online skills that many businesses are crying out for, and the government need to find a way to match these new skills with business demands.

But unfortunately the Government does not "do" digital well, and it never has. Lord Chadlington pointed out that:

"Every Government employment initiative seems to have its own website - apprenticeships, start-up loans etc... - but they are not co-ordinated, one is not linked to another, they are boring and lack focus.

Indeed, in May 2012 the Coalition Government inherited from Labour 750 separate public sector websites, which I think demonstrates the extent of folly, waste and confusion when it comes to online communication and strategy."

Yet to successfully connect with the young unemployed and give them a meaningful leg-up they must learn how to use the internet, and especially social media.

Firstly, the government must realise the inherent contradiction with online tools; which developed as means for people to mobilise one another and force those at the top realise a set of demands. The Arab Spring is the most prominent example of this. Any attempts at top-down control will be sneered at and ignored. For example, the DWP is currently piloting 10 Facebook pages, and unsurprisingly none of these have been successful as too often government attempts to "reach-out" are patronising and condescending, rather than up-front and honest.

Secondly, they have to stop this nonsensical scattergun approach and centralise all information and available support. Young people so badly need an actual one-stop-jobs shop - a complete wrap around service that includes mentoring. Although the government's new website Plotr shows some promise, it is confused with the National Careers Service, and does not offer a whole package.

Finally, the government must learn from the successes of the private sector and stop trying to reinvent the wheel. O2, for example, are running an excellent advice site and campaign called Think Big. This is very well promoted online and in the national news. From the first visit it is fun, interesting, fluid - and most importantly it was devised and run by young people and employers, the people that know best.

Lord Chadlington raised an important point last week; if we start to make the most of the internet then we really could crack youth unemployment. So let's give it a shot and 2013 might not be so bleak for young people after all.