Young people? They’ve never had it so bad

By Philip Benton

Youth Unemployment in Britain

“It wasn’t like this in my day,” the traditional moan of the older generation.

For today’s youth though, this statement might soon be based on fact rather than nostalgia.

Young people have a bleak future compared to their baby booming parents and grandparents. Following on from The London Economic’s article last week discussing the possibility of the higher education bubble bursting, I wanted to focus on an even bigger problem in society – youth unemployment.

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being unemployed on three occasions, although thankfully each time only for a short period.

Everybody has had that ‘Monday morning’ feeling late on a Sunday night and will long for their next holiday. However, it’s a hell of a lot worse when that ‘Monday morning’ feeling is the thought of spending another fruitless day at the job centre being advised to apply for jobs that require a HGV license and a daily commute to Blackpool.

The Recession Hangover

There are 73 million young adults out of work globally according to the United Nations’ International Organization (ILO) and this group is three times more likely to be unemployed than other adults. I fear this figure may even be underestimated. Unemployment in Western economies has risen 25 per cent since 2008; this equates to 2.1 million more unemployed.

The knock-on effect of such a large number of youth unemployed is potentially catastrophic. The world’s population is aging but workers are retiring later. If you are twenty-something and can’t get on the career ladder now, when can you? If you can’t get the appropriate training and experience at an early stage in your career than it’s going to hinder your future income prospects, ability to get a mortgage and even potentially put your health at risk.

Employers have to shoulder some of the blame. Some have abused the internship schemes by operating a revolving door of overworked, underpaid volunteers rather than offering interns a genuine opportunity to gain full-time employment. Others have exploited the use of zero-hour contracts, with the Unite union estimating as many as one in five workers are employed in the UK on this basis with no guarantee of work. In Italy, the situation is even worse with many young workers only able to secure work illegally on the ‘black market’.

The 21st Century Job Centre

I agree that the jobseekers allowance benefits in the UK needed reform in 2012 as I saw first-hand that many beneficiaries were abusing the system and not making the necessary effort required to find a job. However, I also know the difficulty of securing the appropriate job and worry that the current government is cracking down too severely on legitimate UK citizens who have to attempt to survive on as little as £56.80 a week. Some people don’t seem to realise that finding employment is a full-time job in itself and forcing genuine job-seekers to spend several days at a job centre justifying their allowance claim is detrimental to the cause itself.

In my opinion, David Lammy has it spot on regarding his thoughts on the purpose of job centres for 16-25 year olds. He commented: “we need a system that emphasises young people’s potential for work, not their need for benefits”. This one-size fits all approach is actually damaging the ability of young people to nurture their talent and integrate them into the workforce.

You have to question whether it’s really worth getting into debt of £27,000 and spending three years of your life studying to improve your career prospects when there is no guarantee of a job on the other side. It is very conceivable that the higher education bubble could indeed burst.

The Future’s Orange

But let’s look on the bright side. In the UK, the situation is far less severe than for some of its EU neighbours with the latest figures calculating the unemployment rate to be 7.7 per cent compared to the European Union average of 10.9 per cent. In September 2013, the number of people claiming jobseekers dropped at its fastest rate since June 1997.

The UK economy is officially recovering and new jobs are being created. The key to sustaining this growth is by providing the youth of today with sufficient training and opportunities to learn new skills. Not everybody needs to go to university to contribute to society.

It’s a global economy now and the ‘millennial generation’ in the UK are competing against international applicants who are better educated and skilled than ever before. The key to a successful career is obtaining as much experience and skills as you can at an early stage.

The UK government has to encourage teenagers to develop and hone their abilities as much as possible by providing them with the essential opportunities to prepare them for the world of work. If there is no action taken now, we could potentially be left with a talent shortage which would have severe ramifications for generations to come.

Lammy raises another excellent point: “our young people are entrepreneurial. They are creative. They are flexible. They are everything our job centres are not”.

They are our future. Let’s not waste theirs.

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