Youth unemployment is falling – but it is falling more slowly than adult unemployment. And getting a foot on the first rung of the career ladder is still harder to achieve than it was twenty years ago.
This is an issue which pre-dates the recession – a fact which shows that the barriers to young people getting into work are structural rather than economic.
One of these barriers is the sharp decrease in young people who work while they are studying – referred to by some labour market commentators as “the death of the Saturday job”.
As a result of this decline, there are now half as many 16-17 year olds combining work with full-time studies as there were at the end of the 1990s.
Until now, we had no idea what had caused the Saturday job’s untimely demise. However, new research published today by UKCES identifies three key reasons.
1. Young people are increasingly focusing on their studies and choosing not to combine them with work. A choice which is primarily driven by a fear of not “doing well” in exams and the need to “play it safe”.
2. Not enough jobs. Although the majority of young people are opting to focus on their studies, there is still a sizeable minority who are looking for part-time work and unable to find it. And this group of would-be Saturday jobbers is growing. In particular, too few suitable part-time jobs; too few jobs with the flexibility of hours needed to balance work and academic commitments; and increasing competition for those jobs that are available from older more experienced workers.
My own (unofficial!) research on this has shown similar results.
When speaking at events, often I ask employers to raise their hands if they had a Saturday job of some description when they were students. Most do. But when I ask how many of them now offer this sort of opportunity for young people, few hands are raised.
3. The attitude of many education providers towards working while studying. An attitude of which discourages young people from even trying to find a part-time job … thereby exacerbating the impact of reason one!
Now, some education providers clearly understand the long-term benefits workplace experience can deliver for their students. For example, one institution featured in the research offers catch-up classes and flexibility of coursework deadlines to young people who are ‘earners and learners’.
But this attitude is far from the norm. Indeed, most of the education providers interviewed were concerned about the impact of working on academic attainment and, as a consequence, their institutions’ performance in league tables.
I believe that these findings raise some important questions for employers, educators and policy-makers alike.
Because although there is no doubt that education is the best foundation from which young people can build a successful career, workplace skills and experience are important too with 66% of employers surveyed saying these are critical or significant to them when recruiting.
Part-time, seasonal, and Saturday jobs are fantastic ways for students to gain vital workplace skills and experience, and we need even greater collaboration and understanding between employers, educators and policy-makers to ensure that young people are encouraged and enabled to secure these jobs.
Because if we fail to act – and act now – we risk losing the opportunity to unlock the true potential of our next generation of workers and leaders.