04 February 2013

How can we tackle youth unemployment?

An increasing number of young people are now faced with bleak employment opportunities, recent statistics have revealed, prompting questions of how to avoid a lost generation of workers.

Youth unemployment has surged dramatically since the credit crisis, with the UK home to the third worst level in the OECD, the Work Foundation’s ‘International Lessons: Youth unemployment in the global context’ report has found. Only crisis-hit Greece and Spain have higher levels, and there is little respite for our nation’s unemployed in the near term.

The north of England, particularly across the M62 belt, seems to be worst hit by the current slump in employment, with almost 10%t of 16 to 24-year-olds claiming benefits in places such as Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley. The picture doesn’t alter at the other side of the Pennines; Rochdale, Oldham and Halton all have numbers close to 9%.

Although the green shoots of recovery have yet to be spotted in this arena, new initiatives and a focus on youth unemployment could certainly be seen as a silver lining from the downturn. As we look to reengage the ‘missing million’ workers in our economy, here’s what is being done to reverse the trend.

Skill development

Skills policy may provide a blueprint for employability, but for it to be effective it should focus on basic abilities such as punctuality, communication skills and courtesy to equip young people with the tools they need to enter the jobs market. Chris Wilford, from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, believes the time for talking about youth unemployment is over, and now is the time for action.

He believes short-term emphasis should be placed on assisting young people to enter the world of work, and long-term solutions have to be found to tackle the underlying structural problems that perpetuate high youth unemployment levels. This is why reverting to a back to basics approach could be the best way forward in the early stages, which is something employers should be aware of.

Encouraging entrepreneurs

Business growth is a catalyst for employment growth, and in times such as these it can often be more beneficial to create employment, rather than seek for it. Various initiatives have been set up which provide business funding as well as mentoring to help people get entrepreneurial ideas off their feet. The concept is simple, but effective; for every start-up there is at least one job created, with the more successful enterprises going on to create tens or hundreds of employment opportunities.

Start-Up Loans is a scheme offering young entrepreneurs loans of around £2,500 to help them start businesses, with the age range recently been extended from 18 to 24-year-olds to young adults aged up to 30. The funding pool has also been increased from £82 million to £112 million, and anyone out of employment has been urged to consider the scheme as a way to attract further funding in the future.

Empowering SMEs

SMEs are generally progressive enterprises and there has been a flurry of businesses entering spaces previously occupied by large corporates who have cut back. Those who may have been made redundant or are struggling to find jobs in certain sectors are encouraged to consider smaller businesses as well as the established enterprises when looking for work. Recent statistics suggest SMEs account for 55 per cent of the UK’s job creation.


The Local Government Association (LGA) recently claimed that an increase in local government control could see youth unemployment cut by 20%. A new report, produced by the government body, revealed that the present system is ‘overly complicated’ and cutting excessive bureaucracy and central government control could free up jobs.

There have also been outcries of late that initiatives to tackle youth unemployment in Britain are being blocked by government ministers behaving in a “Stalinesque” manner, the shadow work and pensions secretary, Liam Byrne, has warned.

Moving forward, it seems a collaborative effort from the private sector and public sector is what will be needed to avoid this ‘missed generation’ of workers.