Michael Houlihan, CEO, Generation UK

In the last two decades there has never been so few 18-24-year-olds not in employment, education or training #NEET 

Figures released last month by the Office of National Statistics for the last quarter of 2019, show a trend highlighting that more young people than ever before are taking steps to become economically active. Although this reduction in the number of NEETS shows promise, that still leaves 788,000 young people in need of formal employment and training. 

On the other side of the equation, there remain lots of unfilled jobs. 40% of UK employers find there is a shortage of qualified candidates for skilled entry-level jobs. That translates to nearly 730,000 jobs unfilled at the end of last year. Even in a low unemployment situation, such as the UK is experiencing, there is a mismatch between the unemployed, and the skills employers need. 

A solution to finding candidates for the unfilled jobs lies in up-skilling young people, through training programmes that focus on the specific, in-demand, skills required. This solution also addresses a second factor that lies beneath the surface of the UK headlines on employment: the UK has the second highest proportion of unskilled jobs in Europe. This has contributed to the ‘productivity paradox’ with stagnant output per capita. Tragically, this has also fed through to the rapidly growing number of people living in in-work poverty across the country.

This means that the NEET figures, however positive they look at a headline level, do not reflect the reality of the work that still needs to be done, and the opportunity that exists through targeted skills training programmes. 

As we face extremely uncertain times in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic, we face further pressure to ensure this work is done as we see a stark increase in levels of unemployment, in a world where there are already lots of people unemployed and lots of unfilled vacancies. The pandemic is already predicted to cost 3 million people in the US their jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute and we can only expect the UK to follow suit as cases continue to worsen. In a world striving to recover from the strain of unemployment and wage cuts as a result of coronavirus, the number of people unemployed, or under-employed will jump significantly and we must address this immediately. Without the right skills training programmes, we will just be left with even more people without the required skills to find new jobs. 

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But according to the CBI, almost half of young people in the UK believe they have not been prepared for these jobs through their education, and according to the Social Mobility Commission. While 65% of young people believe their education to be better than their parents, only 29% said they had better job security.

 Increasingly businesses are having to rely on technology and therefore on having digitally literate staff. By 2030, 14% of the global workforce will need to reskill due to technological disruption in the workforce, a predicament that may well grow worse sooner than expected due to the coronavirus crisis that will leave those able to operate remotely and online likely to come through bruised but not beaten, while bricks and mortar businesses will unfortunately face a fight for survival.

This is an imminent crisis that if not addressed, could have alarming results, with more than 750,000 estimated unfilled IT sector jobs in Europe. In the UK alone, the digital skills gap could forfeit the economy more than £140 billion of potential GDP growth from investment in intelligent technologies.

We are setting up not just future generations, but the current generation of young people, to fail if we do not teach them the resilient mindset they need to cope with the constant flux, or the transferable skills that allow them flexibility to change profession – or in the case of NEETs, find a profession – that can support them throughout their working life.

This presents us with an untapped opportunity as employers and educators alike, to work with young people, particularly those out of work or education to ensure that they are getting the skills they need through new and innovative models that achieve a productive response to industry needs and are accessible to the younger NEET population.

These models include ‘bootcamp’ style training programmes, where individuals can be trained in the skills required by the labour market quickly. Organisations such as General Assembly, Makers Academy, and WhiteHat  have demonstrated the effectiveness of bootcamps, with hundreds of employers now recruiting software engineers from these programmes as an alternative option to computer science graduates. 

In the charity sector, Generation delivers technology training programmes rooted in the skills employers are looking for, working closely with other charities and government services to identify potential candidates. One example is a cloud-computing-focused programme that train young people as Cloud Support Engineers, used by organisations such as Sainsbury’s, Financial Times and Cancer Research using the programme to recruit talent.

These models are achieving the dual benefit of closing the digital skills gap and providing this training for young people, allowing them to move with the ever-disrupting world of work. This will mean that we can bring the number of NEETs down to new record lows by ensuring they are in training or in work at any one time. Once that happens, we can start to feel really positive about our youth unemployment figures.

Michael Houlihan, CEO, Generation UK

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