From education to employment

Young, keen and often overlooked

People sat in lecture room

A new report by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) highlights an urgent need to support a shift in both mindset and practice among UK employers, to widen opportunities for young people to enter and thrive at work.  

Bridging the Gap: Making Young People a Vital Part of Every Workforce looks at employers’ perspectives and experiences of good quality youth employment. The research explores employers’ views on good quality work, recruitment, management and workplace practices, engagement with education and employment services, as well as challenges and support needs.

The aim is to understand how employers’ perceptions and experiences of youth employment are evolving, how they compare to young people’s own experiences, and how this can inform policy and practice around good quality youth employment. The research findings are drawn together to present initial proposals on what can work to improve access to better quality employment for all young people across the UK.

The research used a mixed-method approach, including a survey of 1,011 businesses and in-depth interviews with 40 employers. Core to the research was the inclusion of Voices across the UK, findings from a survey of 1,275 young people across the four UK nations exploring respondents’ views and perceptions of the quality of work and their experiences in work.

Survey findings include:

Employers are often overlooking a burgeoning youth workforce. A fifth of employers did not hire from the 22-25 age group (21 per cent), two in five did not hire anyone aged 18-21 (40 per cent), and two thirds did not hire from the 16-17 age group (68 per cent) over the past year.

Paying young people lower wages is a key consideration for many employers but employers also realise the need to build talent pipelines. Over a quarter of employersreported hiring younger workers because it is more affordable (26 per cent). But half also recognised the need to recruit younger workers to build talent pipelines (50 per cent) and widen candidate pools (31 per cent).

Employers have limited experience hiring young people who experience disadvantage. A quarter of employers have no experience of hiring younger workers who face one or more forms of disadvantage, such as physical or mental health conditions, low qualifications, lack of work experience, a history of unemployment, or caring responsibilities (25 per cent on average).

There is a discrepancy between employers’ and young people’s perceptions of good work. Employers identified the key facets of good work for young people as an enjoyable workplace environment (43 per cent); a job that feels interesting and fulfilling (42 per cent) and a job that offers opportunities to progress (41 per cent). Pay above industry standards and security and stability were identified as crucial facets by a minority of these employers. While both employers and young people agree on interesting and fulfilling work as a key factor, employers rated pay above industry standards and security and stability far lower than young people did.

Employers feel skills, experience and confidence hinder young people’s access to good work, but young people have different views.  According to surveyed employers, a lack of skills (42 per cent), experience (36 per cent) and confidence (34 per cent) are the major obstacles that young people face to accessing good quality employment. This is in contrast to young people’s views which highlight having connections, access to networks and mental health support as key elements that enable access to good work.

Additional findings include:

  • Employers look for the ‘right fit’ when recruiting young people and place emphasis on their digital skills but struggle with young people’s expectations of work given their relative lack of experience.
  • Unsuitable applications, a perceived lack of interview skills and smaller pools of skilled candidates are common challenges in the recruitment of young people.
  • Employers have a positive experience of managing young people but find meeting their support needs challenging.
  • Employers view young people as prone to ‘job hopping’ but recognise the role good work plays in retention.
  • Employers engage with universities and colleges more often than with schools and employment services but feel that careers services do a poor job of preparing young people for work.

Commenting on the research, lead author Cristiana Orlando said:

“A large number of young people in the UK are feeling uncertain about their job prospects and futures, and our previous research highlighted that they are in particular not feeling confident that they might be able to access good work.

“At the same time, employers across the UK are struggling to fill vacancies due to a labour and skills shortage. These challenges present a key window of opportunity, for employers to tap into a wide talent pool of young employees and offer young people work which supports good health and is attractive to them.

“However, as the research widely highlighted, there are a number of key gaps to be filled for this to become a reality. Many employers are already engaging in good practice, as the research showed, and there needs to be further support, from policy and intermediary organisations, to help employers model this behaviour at scale.” 

The report details comprehensive recommendations looking at four key areas – developing a youth inclusive workforce, bridging the gap between employers and young people, supporting young people to thrive in the workplace and scaling up support and awareness of support for small organisations.

Recommendations include:

Incentivising employers to hire young people. This can be achieved by central government through financial incentives, as evidenced in international practice.

Building better pathways from education to work. This requires a concerted effort by government, education providers and employers. It includes the need for government to heed increasing calls to improve investment in the provision of high-quality careers guidance and support.

Improving standards of pay for young people.This involves paying at least the Real Living Wage for an entry-level role, ensuring pay is fair by engaging with business support organisations and in benchmarking exercises, clearly stating pay on job adverts, offering the same pay for the same roles, and developing transparent salary progression strategies.

Investing in health and wellbeing support. Government should support employers to invest in providing better health and wellbeing support in the workplace. This can be achieved through subsidies for employers with limited resources to support mental health training via access to occupational health or employee assistance services.

Supporting small organisations to access existing support. There is a wealth of resources available for small organisations to support youth employment, through both government schemes and gateway organisations, yet employers need to be enabled to access this in a way that is easy for them. This can be achieved through bespoke engagement by business support organisations with employers, which is sensitive to the challenges these organisations encounter when engaging with support.

The report forms part of a growing research collection detailing a three-year Health Foundation-funded project led by IES on improving access to good quality work for young people, as part of the action phase of the Young people’s future health inquiry.

The report is available to download from the IES website here.

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