Hot topic: Are employers letting young people down by overlooking a potential talent pool?


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Have we just experienced a summer of discontent? The August riots showed to the world evidence of the youth of the UK at its worst. However, the Office of National Statistics last month confirmed 18.4% of people aged between 18 and 24 are ‘NEETs’ – not in employment, education or training – and 20% of graduates are facing the bleak prospect of unemployment. Can young people have an excuse for feeling disillusioned and, in overlooking a potential talent pool, are employers letting them down?

Simon Howard, executive chairman, Work Group

This summer's riots alerted the world to the UK's excluded and lawless youth.

The education system is failing young people and employers.

Two-thirds of graduates get a 2:1 or first. For employers, that means 200,000 young people chasing the 35,000 genuine 'graduate jobs'.

Last month heralded a record year for A levels, meaning 300,000 people fought to pay universities for the privilege of getting a degree.

But the biggest losers were the 17% who left school 'functionally illiterate' with little prospect of work and who, no doubt, made up many of the rioters.

Employers need to understand young people and offer more routes to employment. But they cannot conduct the social engineering which would make the 'excluded' employable.

Employers pay employment taxes, young people pay ever higher fees, but the education establishment is failing both. And where were they this summer?

On holiday, of course.

Stephen Isherwood, head of graduate recruitment at Ernst & Young

At the start of my career, I asked a bank manager if I should join his A-level programme or get a degree. He said both routes could lead to the top.

But with the expansion of higher education, his answer would surely have been different if I asked the question after demand for graduates skyrocketed. Non-graduate roles from the 1980s, when less than 20% of pupils went to university, have become vacancies for graduates.

At Ernst & Young, we launched a school leaver programme, as there are talented people who have the ability for university but are now looking at other routes. They may be worried about their funding or would rather learn and develop in employment.

University is not the default option for A-level students - but the Brown Review predicts student numbers will remain stable. At Ernst & Young, we will still recruit 750 graduates a year.

A student finishing A-levels has a host of options and that must be a positive development.


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