Can youth jobs bloodbath be avoided following the pandemic?

How can we prevent mass youth unemployment following the pandemic? Asks Eleanor Pringle. Pictures: P

How can we prevent mass youth unemployment following the pandemic? Asks Eleanor Pringle. Pictures: PA - Credit: PA

The country stands on the precipice of a jobs catastrophe and those desperately trying to land their first role look set to be hit the hardest.

Vaccine or no vaccine – there is no instant cure for the crisis facing our country’s workforce.

Unemployment is not something Britain is unaccustomed to and it has been the motive behind everything from political campaigns to mass protests.

But the disintegration of the jobs market following the pandemic is being felt most keenly by the youngest members of our workforce which could hold the UK’s output potential back for years to come while the labour market plays catch-up.

According to the government, 581,000 young people aged 16-24 were unemployed between June and August this year, an increase of 35,000 from the previous quarter.

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In total youth employment – which does not include people in education – stands at a record low of just 5.5pc.

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But we all remember our first jobs – casual hospitality, paper rounds, manual labour – surely these are sectors and jobs alike which will bounce back?

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Potentially not.

When furlough was announced 47pc of eligible jobs occupied by young people within two months were put on to the scheme.

And the chancellor has been clear, though he has promised he will “leave no one behind” he has made it clear he “cannot save every job”.

When the wages bill comes back to business owners it begs the question of how many of these jobs will still be on offer.

So what can be done?

“Use entrepreneurial spirit”, says recent graduate Danielle Champ who moved from South Africa to Hethersett at the beginning of 2020.

“Four hours after landing I was signing up with the nearest recruitment agencies in Haywards Heath,” she said. “Day-in and day-out for two weeks, I filled in registration forms, customised cover letters and CVs, and pestered incredibly patient recruitment agents.

“However, while I continued to dish out my CVs there was a growing hesitation from companies around new staff intake,” she said.

Miss Champ, 23, added: “I broadened my scope of occupations to anything and everything; waitress, personal assistant, au pair, fact-checker, but it was becoming clearer and clearer that as the loo paper began to disappear off the shelves, so did my chances of landing an internship with one of my dream media networks.

“The new ‘stay at home’ regulations meant mastering online spaces to be able to support myself remotely, pressing pause on my journalist ambitions.

“And that is how I became an online English teacher. I found that for most students fresh out of university, the pandemic has forced many to adapt and thrive regardless of the uncertain circumstances. “When we come out of the fog of this pandemic, students might find the working world completely different to the one they thought they would enter at the beginning of 2020 – but it will also be a world that they are better prepared for, and more eager to thrive in.”

And 19-year-old Chloe Darcey from Suffolk said more people were looking to enter higher education instead of hunting for a “non-existent job”.

“Lots of people I know have decided to go to university rather than try and find a job because they know there aren’t many on the market at the moment.” she said.

“People are looking to get further education in order to make themselves more employable and also give the job market time to recover. But I guess it’s unknown when that will happen.”

But even in September when many of those youngsters headed off to university or college, 529,400 people aged between 18 and 24 claimed unemployment-related benefits. This was an increase of 125pc on pre-lockdown levels in March.

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So not only are individuals paying the price both in their confidence and their independence but the lack of opportunities they face is costing the taxpayer.

And with furlough set to end once again in March 2021 the question is being asked how precious funds can be spent to secure long-term, skilled and engaging employment.

The Kickstart Scheme was one such initiative which would pay 100pc of the wages and national insurance contributions for roles of 19 to 24 year olds in skilled roles.

However – perhaps understandably – the scheme has fallen somewhat behind on its rollout with questions still being asked about take up.

Indeed over summer, two months after the scheme was announced, confusion remained over the final details of the scheme.

The Department for Work and Pensions reportedly asked recruiters to remove Kickstart vacancies from online jobs boards.

It has not yet been made public what the uptake for the £2bn scheme has been.

Indeed, it has been criticised by former prime minister and chancellor Gordon Brown not for the method of its rollout but for its contents. He said the government’s scheme would not provide high-quality work experience and only help those who had been out of work for six months and were on Universal Credit. Instead he suggested that young people should be given more help with job searches and suggested a wage subsidy for employers of £100 a week for six months to take a young person on full-time. He said: “We know that youth unemployment has a long-term impact on jobs and wages and we don’t want to see that happen to this generation.”

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