53.Young people can be disadvantaged in looking for work because employers often prefer older, more experienced employees who can “hit the ground running” and be productive immediately.118 This applies particularly in times of high general unemployment, when employers can have the pick of unemployed people—some of whom have much more experience than others.119 We heard evidence of how the Department could help to create more opportunities for young people and connect them with opportunities that are already available, as well as how young people and employers can be supported in the recruitment process.
54.Witnesses told us that there is often a mismatch between the expectations that employers have of young employees and the attributes and attitudes of young people. The British Chambers of Commerce reported that 88% of firms in their Workforce Survey felt that school leavers were unprepared for work. 54% felt the same about graduates. Employers identified a lack of soft skills, such as communication and team working (54%) and a lack of focus in schools on the skills needed for work (53%), as explanations.120 These concerns were echoed by other organisations that work with both employers and young people. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), for example, told us that many employers in their sector report that young people “are not entering employment ‘work ready’”.121 We also heard the opposing view, however. Sunderland City Council told us that some employers may have “unrealistic expectations” of young people’s experience, capabilities and confidence levels;122 a point also acknowledged by CIPD.123 Sunderland City Council and the North East Combined Authority suggested that, where young people show attributes such as a willingness to do what is asked of them and to learn, work experience in a supportive environment can be essential to helping them meet employer expectations.124
55.Some witnesses suggested that young people struggle to “sell” themselves to employers at application and interview. Employers can also find it difficult to assess the suitability of young applicants who do not have significant work experience to refer to.125 This can lead to an inaccurate impression that they have little to offer. Greater Manchester Combined Authority suggested that part of the solution is to help young people to “understand and articulate their skills sets in a way which has resonance with potential employers”. The CIPD and the Recruitment and Employment Federation recommended that employers should also be encouraged to use youth-friendly recruitment practices, particularly when interviewing for apprenticeships and traineeships. Practices might include:126
56.We also heard of concerns from employers about the quality of candidates for vacancies advertised in JCP. CITB told us:
Some candidates are put forward by Jobcentre Plus for roles they are not suitable for or interested in, resulting in higher drop-out rates and more difficulty in recruitment.131
Similarly, ERSA stated that there has been “consistent feedback” from employers that JCP requirements for young people to apply for a significant number of jobs via Universal Jobmatch had led to them receiving, and having to sift through, large volumes of applications from unqualified candidates.132 As well as being a source of irritation for employers, we heard that this approach was unhelpful to young people themselves, who could become disheartened by multiple rejections and an absence of feedback from employers.133
57.The Department told us that it recognises many of the concerns of employers, and is currently developing a new Employer Engagement Strategy. This will focus on ensuring “a good match between employer needs and claimant skills and attitudes”.134 The Minister told us that the Department needs to “constantly strive to improve our service to employers”, and acknowledged that “there may once have been [ … ] a culture of saying, ‘Just get people to apply for loads of jobs’”.135 He explained that while some employers had complained to him about this, “there may be some variation” as “an awful lot” had not.136
58.The Department explained that ensuring that young claimants are able to offer employers what they need was only part of its work with employers. It also needs to encourage employers to provide suitable employment opportunities to young people, and ensure that JCP staff are well-informed about them.137 The Department gave examples of how it does this on a national level. Its joint campaign with the Department for Education, Get In Go Far, encourages employers to offer apprenticeships, training and work experience to young people, as well as encouraging young people to take up these opportunities.138 The Minister explained that JCP deals with “some large companies” through its national account management team. At a local level, “each Jobcentre area has somebody who is for that Jobcentre in charge of dealing with employers”.139 Iain Walsh, DWP’s Director of Labour Market Strategy, explained that JCP needed to ensure that “the staff in Jobcentres who are working day-to-day with employers and understanding their needs” are “firmly bedded into the discussions the claimants are having”.140
59.We heard some evidence that JCP’s national work with employers is effective. City & Guilds, which offers a range of technical and vocational qualifications, described Get In Go Far as “a successful marketing campaign” for vocational qualifications. CITB told us about their experience of working with JCP and employers on the Go Construct website, which contains information, guidance and resources on careers in construction. Gillian Econopouly, CITB’s Head of Policy and Research, explained that “nationally we got a lot of good engagement with Jobcentre Plus”.141 However, we heard that JCP does not always work well with employers at a local level. This could prevent information on the sorts of jobs that are available and the skills needed to fill them reaching claimants. Gillian Econopouly explained:
It is quite patchy when it comes down to a local level. [ … ] What we would like to see is Jobcentre Plus staff knowing what the requirements are in that area. They might say to you, “Go and do a bricklaying course”, but we actually needed scaffolding. If they understand the local labour market needs, they can put people on a pathway to a career.142
Similarly, Dean Smith, Director of HR Group Operations for Carillion, explained that engagement with JCP:
Worked extremely well for us when we had a national contract manager who knew Carillion. [ … ] If we were to then look for apprenticeships in a particular area, our national contract manager would go into that cluster of Jobcentres and pave the way and set up the ready-for-work programmes. That kind of fell away—it has been gone for several years now. [ … ] That is the missing bit for us, because that worked extremely well.143
It was not clear from the evidence that we received how widely spread these employer concerns were across the country, and whether they persisted across sectors. Witnesses suggested, however, that JCP struggles to provide accurate information on the full range of opportunities in the local labour market because employer engagement with its staff and services is low.144
60.The Department recognises that it stands little chance of improving young people’s employment rates unless it works closely with employers, both nationally and locally. JCP employer engagement staff have an important role to play. They must ensure that there is a good fit between the options that Work Coaches promote to claimants in JCP and what is available in the local labour market. This is especially important for apprenticeship and traineeship opportunities which offer the pathway to a career. Equally, JCP must ensure that a wide range of employers advertise and work with it. We heard some examples of good engagement with employers at a national level. We also heard that this engagement does not always filter down to local JCPs. This can lead to a poor service for both young people and employers. Young people may be encouraged to apply for jobs that they have little interest in or chance of obtaining, or pushed into training which offers few employment prospects. Employers may struggle to fill vacancies and have to deal with excessive volumes of unsuitable applications.
61.The Department is putting together an Employer Engagement Strategy, which will seek to ensure a good fit between the skills of young claimants and employer needs. This is welcome, but we are concerned that its focus is too narrow. A general assessment of claimant skills set against employer needs will not address the significant concerns that we heard from employers about the service JCP provides, both to them and to young claimants. In its proposed form, the Strategy also will not address concerns relating to young people’s understanding of local opportunities and how to access them.
62.We recommend the Department set out the full scope of its Employer Engagement Strategy in response to this report. The Strategy should specifically identify how integration between JCP and local labour markets will be improved, taking into account the roles played by schools, colleges and apprenticeship providers, as well as employers. There should be a focus on the extent to which JCP understands the current and future business needs of employers and the role of JCP employer engagement staff in improving this. The Strategy should also set out how JCP Work Coaches will be supported to strike the difficult balance between ensuring that young claimants apply for enough jobs, and ensuring that employers are not overwhelmed with unsuitable applications.
63.Jobcentre Plus coped well with increased youth unemployment during and after the recession. The challenge the Department now faces is two-fold. It must enhance the support that it offers to young people with the greatest barriers to work. It must also ensure that its Work Coaches are equipped to offer accurate advice to young people on the opportunities that are available to them locally, and the ways of accessing them. This should include strong emphasis on the benefits of taking up an apprenticeship or traineeship. If it can address this challenge, the Department will help to ensure that young people’s futures are not scarred by the experience of unemployment early in their working lives. More widely, it will play its part in building a workforce with the vital skills that the country needs to guarantee prosperity in the years to come.
118 Rudiger, K., Employers are from Mars, young people are from Venus: Addressing the young people/jobs mismatch, p.8. See also: CIPD, April 2013; Barnardo’s (EOP0056), CIPD (EOP0036), Greater Manchester Combined Authority (EOP0029)
119 Bell and Blanchflower. Young people and the great recession; CIPD (EOP0036), Rathbone Training (EOP0038)
120 British Chambers of Commerce, Developing the talents of the next generation, July 2014; ; Rudiger, K., Employers are from Mars, young people are from Venus; Barnardo’s (EOP0056), CIPD (EOP0036)
121 CITB (EOP0058). See also: Barnardo’s (EOP0056), CIPD (EOP0036), ERSA (EOP0053), Learning and Work Institute (EOP0052), British Council (EOP0034), Greater Manchester Combined Authority (EOP0029), learndirect (EOP0028), RNIB (EOP0022), Royal British Legion Industries (EOP0010)
123 Rudiger, K., Employers are from Mars, young people are from Venus, p.8
124 Sunderland City Council (EOP0045), North East Combined Authority (NECA) (EOP0041), YMCA Scotland (EOP0057), Q113 (Judith Mobbs)
125 RNIB (EOP0022), Royal British Legion Industries (EOP0010), Sunderland City Council (EOP0045), North East Combined Authority (NECA) (EOP0041), Greater Manchester Combined Authority (EOP0029)
128 Association of Employment and Learning Providers (EOP0016), London Youth (EOP0037), MicrolinkPC UK Ltd (EOP0003), https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/apprenticeships-improving-access-for-people-with-learning-disabilities/paul-maynard-taskforce-recommendations
129 City Year UK (EOP0026), CIPD, Unlock new talent: How can you integrate social action in recruitment? July 2015
130 City Year UK (EOP0026), City & Guilds (EOP0024), Greater Manchester Combined Authority (EOP0029)
133 The Prince’s Trust (EOP0025), YMCA England (EOP0001), Newton et al., Intensive Activity Programme evaluation, p.14, Young Women’s Trust
27 March 2017