The last two weeks have been unsettling even for those of us with jobs, homes and savings. For young people from disadvantaged backgrounds without those anchors, a better adjective would be frightening.
Supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds has never been more important and arguably never harder with a myriad of new issues to consider since the outbreak of coronavirus. Naturally, a crisis situation needs an appropriate crisis-fighting response.
The labour market implications of all this may seem of secondary importance in a time when we are actively telling many people not to work. So far, the government has rightly been taking steps to ensure young people continue to get free school meals and don’t get evicted. All these measures, introduced with such swiftness, have been welcomed. But the days of those quarterly press releases declaring record employment figures could be a thing of the past.
Regardless of how the pandemic plays out, there are three key areas we should build on for young people and employment:
- Helping those young people who were in the labour market and now find themselves unemployed.
- Helping those young people who were not in education or work in the first place and now see the prospect of work as more distant than ever.
- Helping young people transitioning between education and work who are worried about their prospects in a very uncertain world.
For the first group, we know that young people fare worse in a downturn, and that the impact reverberates down the years, scarring a generation. What does the evidence tell us about what works in these situations and where the issues are going to occur?
If we are heading for a sizeable downturn, we need to act ahead of time and be prepared. There are new employment opportunities arising in different sectors, especially the food supply industry, and we need to effectively match young people to these needs. With the roll back of JobCentre Plus, employers in different sectors will look to fill their own vacancies, which would be inefficient on a large scale. Coordination to match young people to the new job opportunities will be key.
For the second group, more intensive support is needed. Our Youth Jobs Gap data shows that, even before this crisis, we had around 700,000 young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), most of whom have been out of the job market for a year or more. These young people are too often overlooked and require individual help into jobs and in the workplace. Most NEET young people are NEET for the long-term, and many will take the view that if they couldn’t find a job at a time of record employment, there’s little point in trying now. Economists would call this group “discouraged workers”. I would call them an untapped resource – and overlooking them a national failing.
And for third group, all the 16 and 18 year olds on the threshold of a significant transition, many measures will be needed as this crisis unfolds. Navigating new guidance on exams, grading, applying for courses, apprenticeships, and financial support is already causing anxiety. According to the Resolution Foundation, mental health was already the single biggest health barrier amongst NEET young people. Wider mental health support and clear advice including where to go for support will be needed for the worried generation of young people who will be thinking about their place in a very uncertain world.
None of us knows how the next few weeks and months will play out – and we all have a responsibility to ensure predictions and planning are done sensitively. But we do know that we need to be on the front foot, on top of the data and able to act with speed and flexibility for those young people who need support.
That’s why, alongside Youth Futures, YEUK and Prince’s Trust, I’m leading a coronavirus Youth Employment coalition with a breadth of expertise, networks, and delivery on the ground to identify issues and raise them together, quickly and with precision. And we will work together to design effective solutions, using our shared knowledge and evidence base.
Now, more than ever, we need a united effort across the whole country - businesses, charities, community groups, different levels of governments – for the health of our younger generations and the nation’s economy.
This article originally appeared in FE News.