- The job prospects of school and college leavers who do not attend university have stagnated, says new report
- Experts suggest young people who have completed a university degree should be banned from accessing publicly funded apprenticeships
- All 14- to 16-year-olds should be offered the chance to spend one day a week in the workplace or at college alongside their academic (GCSE) courses
- Subsidies of up to £5,000 should be available to employers who recruit and support disadvantaged young people into good-quality jobs
Ahead of the ONS statistics on youth employment next week, a new research report from the education think tank EDSK finds that young people who do not follow an academic path on to university have been starved of political and financial investment. This is despite just 37 per cent of young people taking three A-levels in their final years at school or college. The report recommends that a future government should focus on bringing young people and employers closer together from age 14 onwards to create a smoother transition from education into employment.
The report, sponsored by the Reed Group, shows how the job prospects of school and college leavers who do not attend university have stagnated over the last 20 years. At the end of 2022, 12.3 per cent of young people aged 16-24 in England were ‘Not in Education, Employment and Training’ (NEET) – exactly the same proportion as in 2000, just after Tony Blair gave his famous speech calling for half of young people to go into Higher Education. Meanwhile, only 2.8 per cent of 16-year-olds were on an apprenticeship in 2022 – down from 7.9 per cent when Tony Blair gave his speech. Even if all 16 to 24-year-olds are included, the proportion of young people starting an apprenticeship has not increased in 20 years.
The report shows that one of the biggest drivers of this lack of progress is the abandonment of crucial programmes that often act as a bridge between education and employment. For example, the ‘Kickstart’ programme gave bursaries to employers who offered work placements for young people aged 16 to 24 at risk of long-term unemployment. 75 per cent of participants were in education, training or employment 10 months after their placement began and 73 per cent of employers were satisfied with their Kickstart experience, but the Government chose to scrap Kickstart after just 18 months of operation.
Similarly, ‘Traineeships’ offered work placements and work preparation to disadvantaged 16 to 24-year-olds. 75 per cent of trainees moved into Further Education, apprenticeships or employment within 12 months, but this scheme was recently cancelled despite trainees being much more likely to have special educational needs, poor school attendance records and few (if any) GCSEs.
The loss of dedicated vocational options for 14 to 16-year-olds has also made it harder for young people who do not attend university to access job opportunities. Previous schemes under the last Labour Government, such as ‘Young Apprenticeships’ (two days a week in the workplace) and the ‘Increased Flexibility’ programme (one day a week in college), improved young people’s confidence, teamworking, attitudes, behaviour and communication skills and led many of them to start apprenticeships at age 16.
However, since 2010 vocational and technical education for 14 to 16-year-olds has been relegated to second-class status behind academic GCSEs. Worse still, T-levels – the new technical qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds – are at serious risk of failure due to numerous mistakes in their design and implementation, which could further damage the chances of young people finding a good job after school or college.
The report concludes that there is an urgent need to build better pipelines into good-quality jobs for everyone who chooses to seek employment and training after leaving school or college. To achieve this, the government must encourage employers to offer more good job opportunities by de-risking recruiting young people to the point where it becomes a rational business decision.
EDSK proposes a 10-point plan to deliver these changes, including the following recommendations:
- Young people who have completed a university degree should be banned from accessing publicly funded apprenticeships to ensure that apprenticeships remain focused on young people who have chosen not to follow an academic pathway
- 14- to 16-year-olds should be offered the chance to spend one day a week in the workplace or at college alongside their academic GCSE courses
- Subsidies of up to £5,000 should be available to employers who recruit and support young people into good-quality jobs
- The Government should introduce new and improved versions of ‘Kickstart’ and ‘Traineeships’ to generate new opportunities for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable young people looking for a job or training placement
- An independent review of T-levels should be undertaken as soon as possible to determine what steps are needed to prevent these qualifications from failing in the coming years
Tom Richmond, director of EDSK and co-author of the report, said:
“Maintaining the well-trodden route from school to university cannot and should not come at the expense of the majority of young people who want to pursue other career options. Regrettably, our report shows that the first rungs on the ladder of opportunity for many school and college leavers are now broken and urgently need to be repaired.
“If the goal is to increase economic growth, skills and productivity, this will not be achieved when so many young people cannot progress towards a good-quality job in a way that recognises their own abilities and aptitudes. The evidence base is clear about which schemes and programmes can transform the prospects of young people, particularly those from less privileged backgrounds, so it is merely a question of who will seize this agenda and overturn the years of neglect that jobs, training and apprenticeships for young people have experienced.”
James Reed CBE, Chairman and CEO of Reed, said:
“With an election in prospect, it is timely that EDSK has produced a programme of ideas that if applied would positively affect the prospects of millions of young people. There is the real possibility of creating a new and alternative career pathway for those that do not attend university. These ten recommendations would have a transformational impact on the life journeys of many currently underserved young people. I hope policy makers will study this excellent report and run with its recommendations.”