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Skills gap risks locking young people out of jobs

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A surge in the number of young people in full-time education has slashed the number looking for work and is leaving them without the skills to join the workforce, according to a new study.

A report by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), on behalf of Youth Futures Foundation and the Blagrave Trust, has found that there has been a significant contraction in the size of the youth labour market.

Youth participation in full-time education is now at its highest on record (at 48%, compared with 43% pre-pandemic,) with 260,000 more young people not looking for work. 

Long-term unemployment among young people has also risen, with 170,000 young people unemployed for more than six months.


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Joy Williams, senior research fellow at IES, told HR magazine: “Young people will be coming out of the shelter of education with much less experience of the world of work than in previous years, as traditional student jobs in hospitality and retail were affected by the pandemic. 

“Younger students leaving further education will too have seen opportunities for in-person work experience diminished through lockdowns.”

Williams advised companies in search of young talent take the initiative.

She said: “Employers need to consider how they recruit and train young people in the coming years and take into account this lack of direct experience, social capital and networks.

“They may need more support to translate the experience they do have – of employer-set projects at school or college for example, for recruiters.”

This experience gap, among other things, has been exacerbated by a lack of mid-skill jobs since the pandemic.

The report said: “The pandemic has intensified the trend towards increased polarisation in the youth labour market between high- and low-skill jobs, leading to fewer ‘stepping stone’ mid-skill jobs and more young people in insecure and part-time work.

Speaking to HR magazine Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howdens, said that many businesses are reluctant to take the plunge on unskilled young people.

“The reality has always been that employers favour experience over potential, as it takes far less time and cost for an employee with some relevant working experience to reach optimum productivity in their new job role," he said.

Research undertaken by Indeed in 2014 suggested that it can take up to 12 months for a new employee to reach maximum productivity.

The current shortage of candidates, he suggested, however, may mean that employers reconsider their approach to young talent.

He added: “The candidate shortage (felt across most sectors) is not helped by the lack of overseas workers right now, and the government position is clear that employers need to recruit and train UK talent in the future.“This suggests that UK employers will revisit their appeal to younger employees and those leaving education once the immediate economic and pandemic concerns are behind us.”