As we head into an economic recovery, and with unemployment levels at the lowest they've been in years, you couldn't really blame some for thinking that the 'job's done' when it comes to youth employment. However, this couldn't be further from the truth - while youth unemployment figures have fallen, 13.1% of all UK 16-24 year olds were still unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2014. With this in mind, it's crucial that the next government acknowledge, and follow through with, the important work that still needs to be done.
It's vital that emphasis is placed on assisting young people who are still suffering from the effects of the last recession. Helping youngsters access more training opportunities and apprenticeships will enable them to make informed decisions about their career path and, in theory, gain employment faster and more successfully. In order to bring about change, recommendations need to be made, pinpointing exactly what needs to be done and how.
The government must be challenged to make these kind of changes so that we can create a generation that no longer feels lost or bereft of employment prospects; a "found generation". Not only will this save billions of pounds in public finance, it will also help with the wider economy, reduce crime, support skills shortages, and boost our nation's productivity. The possibilities are endless.
Last week, Central YMCA launched its Pathways Into Employment Manifesto 2015 at the House of Commons. The manifesto highlights eight key steps that we see as essential in reaching our goal of helping more young people step into a brighter future.
The eight recommendations below include a variety of actions aimed at schools, businesses and training providers:
1. Changes to how Ofsted grades training providers that run programmes for hard-to-reach groups. More emphasis should be placed on the context of training and the learner's journey than on final grades.
2. Greater workplace engagement between schools and local businesses.
3. Full cost recovery for training to those aged 19 and older in certain sectors where it's not possible to employ younger apprentices such as healthcare or personal training.
4. A review of careers guidance policy in schools to better help young people make crucial decisions about their futures.
5. Removal of the 16-hour rule for young people in full-time skills study programmes.
6. An end to the negative impact on housing benefits which is causing many young people to abandon their training.
7. Prompt conclusion of and reporting on Trailblazer pilot phases, to ensure related funding models provide greater flexibility.
8. To improve the service of Jobcentre Plus in getting young people into work and to increase partnerships with training providers and local businesses.
In support of the manifesto YMCA has also published a report entitled: Two Futures: The Lost and Found Generation. This full scale report illustrates the situation many young people in the UK are facing today and will continue to face in the future if certain actions are not taken.
The actions we take now will remain with us for a lifetime, just as the impact of sustained unemployment for young people will last for the rest of theirs.
Efforts need to be made immediately to ensure rates of youth unemployment are reduced and that the opportunities created by economic recovery are shared by all young members of UK society. Helping them is not simply an economic exercise, but a responsibility we owe to our fellow citizens.