14 November 2012
Lottie Dexter writes for The Yorkshire Post
Today’s figures shine a light on damaging youth unemployment, and should encourage us all to help Britain’s bright young things secure a better future.
It is a travesty that the number of 16-24 year olds struggling to find work has hovered around one million for over three years. These young people are desperately seeking their first shot and by wasting their talents we jeopardise tomorrow’s Britain.
Take Ben. He worked well at school; despite not being very academic he kept his head down, tried his best and passed his exams. He’s smart, diligent and badly wants to earn money. Ben is 21, has a long-term girlfriend and a baby girl. They share a two bedroom house with her parents because neither of them can get work.
For him, like hundreds of thousands of others, not working is devastating. Ben wants to build a better a life and give his daughter a positive role model but having only had temporary restaurant jobs, he knows this will not come easily. His despair is plain to see, and he is aware that his plight adds to the stresses of his extended family.
If we look at Ben’s future prospects we find that the odds are stacked against him. Having been out of work for over a year means he is likely to be worse off for his entire working life. It impacts on health and wellbeing; the unemployed have higher chances of poor health such as heart attacks, as well as mental stress and low self-esteem leading to depression. One in five feel the long lasting effects of youth unemployment in terms of lower wages and more time spent unemployed.
A jobless generation affects us all; it harms society and hinders our economic prosperity. If children grow up without working parents, they’re more likely to believe aspiration and hard work leads nowhere. The former US Treasury Secretary, Larry Summer, said recently “I’m not sure that there is a more important long-term issue than youth unemployment.” And he is right. Overtime Britain will suffer reduced productivity and earnings, and more unemployment. This is as well as missing out on tax receipts and paying more in welfare benefits today.
And our bright young things give us a competitive advantage, which is especially important as emerging economies such as India and Brazil transform the international landscape. Young minds are our most potent natural resource, they offer a fresh perspective and fizz with ideas. Take Mark Zuckerburg who created Facebook at University or Theo Paphitis who started work as a tea boy. O2 estimated that the combined digital skills of the young unemployed could be worth up to £6.7billion to our economy. This shows that empowered young people will add value to businesses and help freshen up our country. So for the wider social and economic good, as well as the individuals affected, their families and communities, we need to harness these talents. There is no simple solution and it will require a big, orgnaised effort across government, companies and communities.
The Government need to ensure Britain’s youth have the skills to succeed in the 21st Century. Changes to vocational courses and apprenticeships should put these on par with a university education. Four in ten young people believe they didn’t finish school with the right skills to get a job. Proper on-the-job training will allow young people to absorb their surroundings, learn from superiors and grow with the organisation. Last year over 80% of 19-24 year old apprentices went on to full employment. And they will feel the benefits over their lifetimes, because despite starting on a minimum wage of £2.65 per hour apprentices earn over £100,000 more than other employees.
It should be easy for companies to inject new blood and give all young hopefuls a chance. The introduction of tax breaks and simplifications for low paid young workers will go some way to help. Germany uses tax incentives for training and companies reduce hours rather than lay off workers. As such German youth unemployment is about 8pc, compared to 20.5pc in Britain.
Often young people don’t know where to start looking for a job, writing a CV or preparing for an interview, and we can all support them. Taking an hour to tell them about your own work experiences would make a huge difference. A recent study found that young people who had careers advice from at least four employers are more than twice as likely to feel confident about getting a good job.
At some point we have all needed a helping hand, and Britain’s young people are calling for one now. By failing a generation we are creating intractable social and economic problems that will hinder us for years. But if we invest in our young people we mould our future, and let’s make a special effort so it is the best it can be.