Employment opportunities for young people Contents


The Government has set a goal of achieving “full employment” in this Parliament. That will mean ensuring that all young people are in employment or education—either “earning or learning”. Youth unemployment has fallen substantially in recent years, aided by a buoyant job market and targeted Jobcentre Plus (JCP) programmes that helped many young people move quickly into work. Despite this progress, the youth unemployment rate is still more than double the general unemployment rate, and some groups of young people remain particularly vulnerable to long-term unemployment. Even when unemployment is temporary, it risks creating a permanent scar on young people’s future careers. Young people constitute a special case; one that warrants targeted support.

The Government’s aim of achieving 3 million new apprenticeship starts by 2020 is ambitious and welcome. Increasing the numbers of young people in apprenticeships could further reduce youth unemployment, while setting young people on the path to a rewarding career. It will also be crucial in addressing skills shortages in the UK economy, particularly post-Brexit. JCP must work more effectively with employers, schools, colleges and apprenticeship providers to understand local vocational opportunities, and to ensure that young people have the skills and attributes needed to fill them.

There is an urgent need for careers advice and guidance that emphasises the value of apprenticeships and traineeships to young people who are still at school. The Department recognises that it can play an important role in providing this; the JCP Support for Schools initiative has shown promise. The Department should continue to promote vocational education and employment as a central focus of Support for Schools as it rolls out nationally, and should evaluate its success in doing so in order to identify possible further improvements.

Some young people are ill-prepared for work and lack the requisite skills to find employment easily on leaving school. For young people who have left education and are unemployed, support programmes delivered in and via JCP—for example, through initiatives such as the Work Programme—can be vital in helping them to prepare for and find work. Among some young people, however, JCP has a poor image and is sometimes seen as intimidating and unwelcoming. This may discourage young people from engaging with JCP support or even lead to them avoiding its services altogether. This saves on benefit payments, but cuts off access to employment support. If it is to achieve its ambition of full employment amongst young people, the Department must take steps to improve JCP’s image and young people’s perceptions of the support that it has to offer.

The new employment support programme for young people, the Youth Obligation, will be rolled out in existing Universal Credit (UC) full service areas from April 2017, and alongside the full service thereafter. The UC full service roll-out is not due to be complete until September 2018, however, and has already experienced substantial delays. The Department is confident that the Youth Obligation will benefit most young people who take part. JCP already has the capacity to buy in the additional support that may be needed to deliver parts of the programme nationally via the Flexible Support Fund. The Department must, therefore, ensure that young people’s access to this potentially valuable programme is not determined by postcode lottery, or dependent on the delayed UC roll-out. The Youth Obligation should be uncoupled from UC, and the Department should prepare to implement it in all Jobcentres.

The Department must, however, recognise the importance of offering the right support to young people at the right point in their claims. Young people on the Youth Obligation are expected to move onto one of three options—an apprenticeship, traineeship, or JCP-arranged work placement—if they have not found work after six months on the programme. The Department has indicated that Work Coaches may have some discretion in how this aspect of the Youth Obligation is applied. It should go further, establishing a clear expectation that Work Coaches will not mandate young people to attend placements that are not appropriate for the stage that they are at in moving towards work. Such placements could be counter-productive for both the young person and for the placement host. To help Work Coaches continually assess young people’s readiness for work the Department should introduce a set of “distance travelled” outcome measurements in JCP, allowing them to identify where progress is being made and where more help might be required.

Good progress has been made on youth unemployment in recent years, but challenges remain. The Department must now enhance the support that it offers to young people who are particularly vulnerable to long-term unemployment. It also has an important role in supporting young claimants to take up the opportunities that are available to them locally, and to acquire the skills that the UK economy needs. Through this, the Department can reduce the chance that young people’s futures are scarred by the experience of unemployment early in their careers and play its part in building a workforce with the skills to ensure the country’s future prosperity.

27 March 2017