People looking for their first job have long had a raw deal in the labour market. The effects of the financial crisis in 2008 meant employers disproportionately scaled back recruitment of entry level jobs and the most recent ONS statistics concerning those Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) say there are still 954,000 young (16 -24) NEETs.
However, 2015 looks set to bring sustained economic growth and the trend of falling unemployment continues to fall - albeit slower than early-2014.
Why then, did a report released by totaljobs.com and conducted by Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), find that one in seven British employers has been unable to fill an entry-level role in the last three years?
The un-employability of entry-level workers
IPPR calculations using ONS found that the employment rate for all qualification levels fell following the recession and has not yet returned to pre-recession levels. This represents an increase of over 20,000 of unemployed entry-level workers. While there has been an increase in the number of unemployed entry-level jobseekers (at all levels of education), the skills that employers are looking for has remained the same. For instance, over one in five employers continues to create graduate-only vacancies.
But graduates (arguably the most publicised segment of the entry-level pool) only account for a third of jobseekers. More than two-thirds of entry-level workers have other qualifications e.g. GCSEs and A-levels. There's clearly a serious mismatch between the skills held by entry-level candidates and those required by employers.
Businesses are inundated with entry-level applications yet complain that they cannot find the right candidates with the relevant abilities. Our research suggested that as the labour market recovery continues, it's likely that these skills shortages, across all industries, will become acute. And, while there has been an increase in vocational studies, school and college-based qualifications are plagued by criticism.
Many argue that they still do not provide individuals with the qualifications needed by employers and it is frequently suggested that current qualifications on offer are not aligned with employers' needs, leading to a skills mismatch in the market for non-graduates - the forgotten 60%.
IPPR suggests that it seems successive governments' attempts to increase the levels of skills of young people have not been fully matched by increases in the demand for skills from employers.
The right jobs for the right people
The most widespread difficulties in recruiting at entry-level are in the hospitality and leisure industry. Here, more than one in five employers say they have had issues indicating that recruitment difficulties are less likely linked to a skills shortage.
Factors that could explain these difficulties include low rates of pay (according to ONS statistics) and higher staff turnover than elsewhere in the economy. Other sectors experiencing higher levels of difficulties include manufacturing, education and medical. In stark contrast, the highly specialised nature of work in these sectors does suggest a skills shortage - one that is regularly discussed in media in the guise of a chronic science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) shortage in the UK.
There is also a common misconception that the majority of entry-level jobs are found in the service sector - in fact - the reality is that a disproportionate number are found in elsewhere, such as manufacturing. If, as seems likely, young people do not expect to find jobs in a particular sector, they will not train for them or look for them.
Employers can do more to cast the recruitment net wider
It's most common for employers to offer vacancies at either graduate or GCSE A*-C level according to the report. However, by expanding the potential pool of recruits, or building greater qualification flexibility into job descriptions, businesses and recruiters alike can help to alleviate pressures around specific skills shortages.
By giving young people work experience while they are still learning, it can help to dispel their preconceptions about what work is really like. Finally, apprenticeships are also an increasingly popular route for people to acquire skills while entering the workplace and an area that is gaining traction in business - highlighted by the growth of the 5% Club.
No matter the route into employment, entry-level jobseekers still face an uphill battle to secure full-time work with many 'traditional' recruitment processes still favoured by employers. To better target entry level talent (specifically the younger candidates) the industry needs to play catch up. Whether that comes through more intuitive mobile apps that enable jobseekers to apply on the move, or through websites that integrate optimised search features - Gen Y needs to be engaged!
In my mind, businesses can still do more to make sure that their recruitment process - from job description, to technology, to skills required - gives people looking for work the best opportunity of finding the right job for them.