I got my first job when I was sixteen selling Christmas decorations in a department store. I was the proudest teenager in East London; I felt rich earning £6 an hour! Working made me feel independent, it gave me a group of friends, and it taught me what was needed to be successful at work, and, just as important, what was not needed. This early work experience gave me confidence, socio-economic and cultural capital, and an early work history that has stood me in good stead ever since. I was lucky to have that early opportunity aged sixteen but I'm not sure my fourteen year old cousin Jasmine will be as lucky.
In Newham, the borough I was born and raised in, over 3,000 young people are unemployed. Across Britain, one million young people are unemployed. We have been called the lost generation, the scarred generation, the hopeless generation. We are not 'Generation Y', we are Generation 'Y is it so hard to get a job?'
But why is youth unemployment so high today? Who is to blame? Are there not enough jobs? Have government programmes failed? What needs to be done to tackle youth unemployment?
These are the questions a group of young people and I in the Young Fabians sought to address in a new report on youth unemployment, based on hundreds of interactions and conversations with young people themselves, experts and policy-makers over the course of this summer.
Our report, launched last week with the Shadow Minister for Employment Stephen Timms MP, argues that Government's approach to youth unemployment is failing. Since the coalition came into power, the youth unemployment rate has risen to 21.4%. Nick Clegg's £1bn Youth Contract has only managed to deliver 4,690 jobs for young people, and David Cameron and George Osborne have failed to stimulate job creation in the economy.
The report also argues that youth unemployment is a complex problem which has complex causes. There are dynamic and structural reasons.
Firstly, the recession and austerity measures have led to job cuts and fewer jobs being created. In many cases thousands of people are applying for the same job, and young people are often the first to go and the last to be hired.
Secondly, youth unemployment was rising even before the recession and the rate of unemployment has consistently been higher for young people compared to those over 25. Our education system and careers service have fallen short of preparing many young people with the skills and knowledge for the labour market. These dynamic and structural issues call for bold responses.
One of the key messages coming out of our report is that we need much more focus on getting the transition between school and work right. Central to this is access to high quality careers advice, but careers services are failing. Last week, a damning new report by Ofsted, found that careers services in schools were 'not working well enough'. Too much of it is low quality and suffers from being too far removed from the realities of the labour market. This lack of adequate careers advice means that hundreds of thousands of young people are leaving our schools each year with no plan for 'what next?'
Things need to change.
Firstly, we need to rapidly recruit and train more careers professionals, equipped with the skills and knowledge to provide good advice to young people and to broker introductions and work experience. We are proposing the creation of a 'WorkFirst' programme, based on the TeachFirst model, to recruit talented graduates into the careers advice field. Young people need ongoing face-to-face support, not generic advice delivered on the phone as the National Careers Service currently delivers.
They would work for 'Careers Agencies', a cross between careers advice and recruitment agencies, responsible for linking schools with their local labour market and ensuring every student who approaching the end of school, has a progression plan into employment (including apprenticeships), education or training.
Secondly, the careers advice that young people are given should be better informed by labour market information - solid intelligence on the jobs that are likely be available. There are already too many young people who are studying on courses where there is an oversupply of workers. Young people need to know the chances of getting a job if they choose a certain route and be empowered to make their own informed decisions.
Nothing short of a revolution in careers services will do. We need to stop treating careers education as a second-class add-on, and invest now, to prevent another youth unemployment crisis in the near future.
The consequences of not acting are clear. My hope is that the ideas in our report for tackling youth unemployment are discussed and made government policy so that my cousin Jasmine, her friends in Newham, and young people across Britain do not end up a 'Lost Generation'. They deserve to have their aspirations fulfilled; they ought to have hope for their future.
Alvin Carpio is Chair of the Young Fabians' Policy Commission on Youth Unemployment. He is also a board member of the UpRising Leadership Programme. You can download the Young Fabians' report 'Tackling youth unemployment' here. This blog post was co-written with members of the Young Fabians' Policy Commission on Youth unemployment, Joel Mullan and Sarah Webster.