Youth jobs crisis: schemes set up to help young people find work

Fiona Simpson
Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The pandemic has seen the number of young people in work reach a record low level. Experts say government schemes are short-term solutions, prompting youth organisations to develop their own support programmes.

Charities and youth work organisations are offering free training and mentoring schemes for disadvantaged young people. Picture: Pressmaster/Adobe Stock
Charities and youth work organisations are offering free training and mentoring schemes for disadvantaged young people. Picture: Pressmaster/Adobe Stock

Youth employment hit a record low in the three months to October, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show, highlighting the devastating impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on opportunities for 16- to 24-year-olds.

Reports suggest young people have been worst hit by job losses caused by the impact of the virus as many entry-level jobs are in sectors still badly affected by the crisis.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has ploughed billions of pounds into the Kickstart jobs scheme, which is aimed specifically at young people, and the government’s Plan for Jobs, as well as a multi-billion pound investment in apprenticeships.

Charities, youth work organisations and private sector companies have also stepped up to offer free training, mentoring schemes and job opportunities for the most disadvantaged young people, with many harnessing the power of online platforms and video tools to match potential new recruits with employers (see below).

Many options available

Mike Hawking, head of policy and partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says there is “no shortage” of short-term programmes offering opportunities to boost employment skills for young people hard hit by the pandemic.

“There are a lot of options for younger people who are out of work due to the pandemic offering funding, training and work experience to support them back into the jobs market,” he adds.

However, experts question if enough is being done to prevent “permanent scarring” for young people embarking on their career and raise concerns over whether a plethora of training and employment schemes will lead to confusion for employees and job hunters alike.

The number of young people aged 16 to 24 in employment between August and October dropped by 90,000, meaning youth employment fell to 3.51 million, the lowest level on record, says the ONS.

Separate ONS data shows there was a 120 per cent rise in the number of 18- to 24-year-olds claiming out-of-work benefits between March and November 2020, while the 16-24 unemployment rate increased to 14.6 per cent (see graphics).

The ONS calculates employment rates based on economic activity of the population, whereas unemployment rates are based on numbers of new benefits claimants.

Worst-affected jobs

Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies states that under-25s are already 2.5 times more likely to work in sectors worst affected by lockdown restrictions, including hospitality, non-food retail, and arts and leisure services.

Sectors that shut down as a result of national lockdowns in March and November, and intermittently due to the introduction of tiered restrictions, employed nearly a third of all employees under the age of 25 compared with one in eight workers aged 25 and over.

Jonathan Townsend, UK chief executive at The Prince’s Trust, says: “Young people are facing a double jeopardy in that they’re more likely to have lost their job at the start of the pandemic and the least likely to have found a new one.”

The £2bn Kickstart jobs scheme gives employers the opportunity to offer young people on Universal Credit state-subsidised work placements and offers businesses £1,500 to set up support and training for those on the scheme.

Kickstart also sees the government fund the wages of employees, up to 100 per cent of National Minimum Wage, for 25 hours a week for six months.

As part of the government’s one-year Spending Review focused solely on the response to the coronavirus crisis, Sunak pledged £127m for traineeships, sector-based work academy placements and the National Careers Service, as well as £2.5bn for apprenticeships.

The government also announced a £95m package of free Level 2 and 3 training courses for 18- and 19-year-old school leavers, and Level 3 courses for adults. Course options include qualifications in childcare, health care, construction, plumbing and bricklaying.

Companies including the National Grid have also set up training schemes and funding streams aimed at disadvantaged young people.

Risk of confusion

However, experts have warned a raft of solutions may spark confusion for both professionals and young people.

Leigh Middleton, chief executive of the National Youth Agency, says: “New programmes should provide much needed stability to the jobs market in the short term. To be effective, they must not only provide work experience and training, but need to recognise and respond to the changing nature of future work and employment.

“There is a danger that a myriad of employment initiatives can be just as confusing to the professionals as it is to the young people and communities they seek to support. They need consistent and coherent support throughout, to help remove barriers and ensure there is no cliff-edge of support when young people reach 18.”

Others have warned that support schemes such as Kickstart may have a detrimental effect on apprenticeships at a time when apprenticeship starts for 16- to 18-year-olds have fallen by 79 per cent compared with 2019.

Jane Hickie, managing director at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, says: “We are now seeing evidence that our big fear in the summer about the Kickstart scheme displacing apprenticeships is being realised because the Kickstart incentives for employers and young people are more attractive. Nor are tweaks to the levy transfer system going to be the answer to restoring smaller employers to their traditional role of being major recruiters.”

Hawking says the better incentives for Kickstart are resulting in investment shifting away from long-term training opportunities.

He says: “The danger is we have a focus on temporary jobs schemes which only work short term rather than a long-term review of the apprenticeship system.”

Hawking also raises concerns over permanent “scarring” of young people’s career paths.

“A lack of long-term solutions to the youth unemployment crisis means this scarring will last for years,” he adds.

Middleton adds: “We must learn lessons from the depths of the 1980s recession which wrote off a generation of young people, and many families, to mass unemployment and more punitive approaches to non-participation in training schemes, with little or no hope of employment at the end.”

Improving opportunites

He says that a youth work-led approach is “essential” in improving opportunities.

“NYA has teamed up with Youth Employment UK,” he says, “and will publish a joint report in the new year on a youth work approach to employment.

“Significantly, good youth work promotes enterprise and young people’s agency, with a range of skills that employers want for young people ‘to be work ready’ and is equally important for the self-employed, business start-ups and gig economy.”

As unemployment rates rise, what unites those looking to support young people through a growing crisis is the need for long-term solutions as opposed to a sticking plaster with no certainty over whether funding will be available past the end of the next financial year.


Reach Up, UK Youth, Adviza and Coca Cola European Partners

Reach Up is a five-day employability training skills programme aimed at 16- to 25-year-olds not in work or education which coaches participants over Zoom. Participants have the opportunity to network with staff from Coca-Cola European Partners and take part in a charity fundraising project. Each participant is also offered a £100 bursary towards further training.

Rapid Recovery Challenge, Nesta

Nesta’s £3m Rapid Recovery Challenge offers organisations £125,000 each in funding to develop innovative solutions that help young people access jobs and financial support. Recipients of the grant – part funded by the Money and Pensions Services, JP Morgan Chase and the Department for Work and Pensions – include UK Youth & Snook. The partnership provides a range of digital tools to educate young people on budgeting.

Grid for Good, National Grid

Aimed at disadvantaged young people, including those out of work and prison leavers, Grid for Good will support hundreds of 16- to 30-year-olds to participate in the programme and support them in gaining an insight into the world of work and the energy industry. The scheme includes work readiness training; 12-week career mentoring; two-weeks work experience; and access to apprenticeships and internships.

Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, DofE Resilience Fund

The Resilience Fund has been created to pay for 12,000 DofE places for young people facing disadvantage to help them secure job interviews and job opportunities. The fund will support online training for up to 3,500 youth workers – including under-24s – to support places for disadvantaged young people. This includes senior managers, frontline managers and volunteers.

JETinspired, the Jon Egging Trust

The charity, which specialises in delivering early intervention life-skills programmes, is seeking to support more young people with its new digital toolkit, JETinspired, in partnership with the Red Arrows. The toolkit, available online, is aimed at helping teachers to support young people to make the right career choices.

Get Hired, The Prince’s Trust

In response to the crisis, The Prince’s Trust has launched a Get Hired Jobs Board to match employers with young people who are ready to work now. The online hub offers virtual events where employers can meet potential recruits, a matching service for employers and those looking for work, and training for young people already matched to businesses.

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