Research published last week by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission argues that London is 'miles ahead' of the rest of the country on social mobility. According to the research, the capital is a 'social mobility hotspot,' where disadvantaged young Londoners have access to outstanding schools and universities, and where there are plenty of well-paid, professional jobs.
But is it true that London's jobs market is working for the city's young people? We cannot assume that just because there are good jobs in London, all young people in the city have access to them. London boroughs top the tables in providing disadvantaged young people who grow up in the city with access to outstanding schools and the top universities. But the latest jobs figures show that 18.4% of Londoners aged 16-24 who are looking for work are unable to find it, compared to a UK average of 15.2%. We cannot know from these figures what proportion grew up in the capital, versus those who come to London from around the country and indeed internationally, attracted by London's highly competitive job market. It is important that both young people who have grown up in London and those that move here can access the many good jobs on offer in London - but the youth unemployment figures suggest London does poorly on both counts.
For London's job market to be truly within reach of young people, policymakers and employers need to improve routes into work after school or university. The city's vocational education system performs poorly, with drop out rates for 17 and 18 year olds in vocational education high at 41%. And there are fewer apprenticeships available for young people than elsewhere in the country, with 5.3% of 16-17 year olds in England in an apprenticeship last year compared to just 2.6% in London . To boost this number, greater efforts should be made to promote vocational education in occupations that are in particularly high demand in London, such as construction, transport and logistics.
Routes into work for graduates also need improving. Competitive entry-level jobs increasingly require work experience, and young people leaving education with no experience of paid work are less likely to find a job than those with experience. This is a problem in London, where fewer university students work alongside studying than in the rest of the country. Internships can offer valuable work experience to students and new graduates, and nearly half of all UK internships are based in London. But our research suggests that access to internships is often limited to the well-connected, with relatively few advertised. Those that are often require previous work experience, so that many young people are stuck in a 'Catch 22' situation. And we have heard from some employers that they are worried the apprenticeship levy will squeeze the budget they have for high-quality, paid internships, making them even harder to come by.
To be top of class for social mobility, London can't just provide an excellent education for those under 16 - it needs to help young people at all levels into good jobs. Which ever candidate becomes London Mayor this May, a priority must be to ensure that good vocational and graduate routes to work are available for all young Londoners.