29/07/2013 10:16 BST | Updated 28/09/2013 06:12 BST

The Real Reason Why Youth Unemployment is So Insidious

Unemployment amongst young people remains unacceptably high. Latest figures show that nearly one million people between the ages of 18 and 24 are out of work, only a few less than in the previous month.

The consequences of unemployment go far beyond the immediate impact on a young person's life. It's not just that they have no money, that their self esteem may be damaged and that they are unable to get the start in life they had hoped for. There is another, less obvious, but far more insidious consequence.

Surveys of job satisfaction invariably show that a high proportion of people are unhappy in what they do. A survey last year found that low British levels of satisfaction with job and work-life balance are only exceeded by Portugal, Russia and five ex-Communist countries. One of the reasons is that people do not make informed job choices; they tend to stumble into their careers, taking the first opportunity that comes along when they leave full time education, and carry on stumbling from one job to another thereafter.

But there should be an easy way to avoid ending up in an unhappy career. Our working lives are getting longer. Most of us are likely to carry on working until at least our late sixties or seventies. This means that we should have time at the beginning of our careers, if we use it properly, to explore different options, before making a final career choice based on knowledge rather than guesswork.

The time for exploring career options is between the ages of twenty and thirty. Ideally at that age we would move around from one job to another every couple of years, finding out about them, working out what our key skills are, and planning our careers for the long term. In a truly ideal world we wouldn't even begin to train for our final career until we had spent the first few years after school or college looking around.

But we can't do that if there are no jobs. Which is why youth unemployment is so insidious. By denying young people the opportunity to find a career that they will enjoy and do well in, it's not just them who get damaged. The effect is far more than denying them a few years of earning power and setting them back in their careers. The chances are that when they do get a job it will the wrong one, because they will be forced to seize whatever opportunity comes along, however inappropriate it is. Society and the economy as a whole which will suffer. Since we'll carry on having the wrong people in the wrong jobs, we will be less happy at work, less productive in what we do, and hence less prosperous.

Youth unemployment is a problem for us all. Perhaps, if politicians saw it as that, they may be more energised in doing something about it.