‘We must not lose sight of the long-term vision when it comes to youth unemployment’

Taking a look at the real-world impact the current employment landscape is having on the lives of young people

The youth unemployment picture is currently a grim one, with the latest ONS figures revealing a startling increase in the number of 16 to 24-year-olds currently out of work. Figures from September show we are already facing the highest levels of youth unemployment in four decades. Whilst most will agree we have a major problem to fix, there remains debate on the viable solutions. 


Fundamentally, the direction we head in now will be critical for recovery and beyond. That includes acknowledging that young people are being disproportionately impacted economically by this crisis, whilst identifying and investing in new ways to develop the talent needed to underpin long-term national prosperity and deliver tomorrow’s economic growth. 

Lacking in career prospects

It’s now widely understood that high levels of youth unemployment have significant and damaging repercussions. Previous studies, drawing on times such as the 2008/09 recession have demonstrated that prolonged periods of unemployment have a large impact on life trajectory, from mental health to a potential chance of lacking in skills development. As such, the financial impact of this downturn will be immediate and pronounced for many more young people, increasing the prevalence of poverty. Unfortunately, that impact will also propagate, affecting the long-term employment prospects for tens or hundreds of thousands of people. At a national and economic level, it also means a missed opportunity, with latent talent not contributing to an economy that’s limping along.


It’s also easy to forget that behind these deeply concerning statistics and figures are the young people that are seeing opportunities dashed before their eyes, and the promise of a meaningful career feeling an ever-distant mirage. 


There are short-term solutions to curbing youth unemployment, from the UK government’s furlough scheme, through to Kickstart – which looks likely to create a large number of six-month work placements, making an important but temporary contribution. The larger and longer-term impact will come from initiatives that support young people in establishing sustainable, future-facing careers in growth sectors.

Revolutionising education

We now need to rethink the traditional approach to education, training programmes and the routes to employment. Mutually beneficial reforms, evolution and fresh commitments targeting unemployed young people are win-wins for this generation, businesses and the economy alike. 


Tech and digital skills are a key opportunity area, given the industry’s promising signs of continued growth. In the UK last year, the tech industry grew six times faster than any other sector, and despite COVID-19, it has shown remarkable resilience. The jobs with the highest volume of live vacancies across the UK right now, alongside critical health and care workers, are for software engineers.

With the almost exponential increase in jobs requiring digital skills, across a plethora of industries, ensuring that education and employment programmes equip young people with both the foundational skills and agile mindsets that allow them to flourish and drive their own careers, will be vital. 

“Tech and digital skills are a key opportunity area, given the industry’s promising signs of continued growth”

The government can’t be expected to tackle this issue alone. Initiatives such as the Kickstart Scheme, National Skills Fund and renewed support for apprenticeships are incredibly welcome, but next up, we need businesses to embed and accelerate these core ideas and models of learning in a way that’s scalable and sustainable in the years to come. 

Upskilling the current and future workforce

Organisations of varying sizes can help in safeguarding career education and upskilling as a priority, accessible to young people from all backgrounds. To generate wide-reaching impact, leaving no one behind, a model incorporating engagement with local groups – from charities and social enterprises to local councils – can aid implementation on the ground where it matters.


The specific design and delivery of training and upskilling programmes will also help lay the foundations of the pathway from education to employment. A common concern from companies today is the struggle to find the necessary talent. According to the Open University Business Barometer, 56% of UK organisations continue to experience skills shortages and three in five (61%) organisations say that they are not as agile as they need to be due to shortfalls in their skills. This, then, is a chance for companies to proactively address this by supporting the expansion of profession-specific training programmes, incorporating the skills identified as needed by employers for entry-level roles. Investing in such programmes could nurture a generation of young people equipped with the skills businesses desperately need to drive innovation and performance. 

Meeting the demand for digital skills

At Generation, we have launched specific programmes that are giving young people the skills to enter digital roles – armed with the talents and knowledge to take advantage of the areas of growth this pandemic has seeded, and which we will also likely see flourish in subsequent years. These programmes are also orientated around the skills employers need, as well focusing on specific digital careers, from cloud engineering to data engineering and web development.


Generation is also actively working with employers to find direct placements for those who complete the programmes – from coders to future cloud engineers. These are employers across the economy that need digital talent, and young people that have not only the skillsets, but the mindsets, to deliver real value to these organisations. 


Youth unemployment will sadly have a lasting impact on our economy post-COVID, as well as individual lives. It’s not something we can look to put a plaster over and operate on at a later date. Initiatives that can be rapidly launched and scaled can make an impact here and now, providing pathways for many facing adversity, helping them toward improved personal and financial wellbeing. Longer term efforts to diversify traditional routes from education to employment, and investments in supplying the skills to match the demand, are also needed, and will bear serious dividends in the future.

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