Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute

This isn’t just about recovery from recession, it’s about a higher ambition for the future too 

After a year like no other, the success of the vaccine programme means we’re now thinking about how to reopen our economy and society (though still with risks and uncertainties ahead). Learning and Work Institute’s Youth Commission provides a blueprint for recovery and renewal in young people’s education and employment opportunities.

We’ll be living with the pandemic for years to come. More than 400,000 young people are claiming unemployment-related benefits, more than double pre-pandemic levels. Hundreds of thousands of young people are facing a double whammy of disrupted education and a weaker labour market.

The impact on young people is particularly stark because the pandemic has particularly affected retail and hospitality – sectors young people are most likely to work in. This means employment has fallen most for young people and young people are more likely to have been furloughed.

This matters because it’s taken 3-7 years after previous recessions for employment to recover. And a period of unemployment while young can have long-term scarring impacts pay and job prospects. We must minimise the number of young people out of work and prevent long-term unemployment.

But this isn’t just about recovery from recession, it’s about a higher ambition for the future too. Before the pandemic, one in three young people didn’t have a level 3 qualification and one in five had low basic skills like literacy and numeracy – worse than in many comparator countries. Plus outcomes varied starkly around the country.

Too often, young people face a postcode lottery in a country where talent is evenly distributed but opportunity isn’t.

Where are we now?

The Government has a long list of policies and initiatives.

That includes:

  • apprenticeship incentives for employers;
  • Kickstart;
  • funding for extra Traineeships; and
  • plans for a new Restart programme for people who are long-term unemployed.

This is on top of existing changes underway, such as the development and rollout of T levels.

In short, there’s a lot going on and most is welcome.

However, I worry that some young people miss out. For example only one in three 16-17 year olds not in full-time education are in work. They’re not generally eligible for Universal Credit and Jobcentre Plus support.

I also worry the support young people get may be based as much on which bit of the system they access as what they need. It shouldn’t matter which service or provider young people are in contact with, they should get the support that best fits their needs and ambitions.

So we’ve got lots of the right bits of the jigsaw puzzle, but some are missing and it’s not clear what picture we’re trying to make.

Blueprint for change

Over the past three years, our Youth Commission has been analysing these challenges and the policy response. It’s now published its blueprint for change – focused on recovery and renewal.

It starts with a clear ambition. We should aim for three quarters to have a level 3 qualification by age 25 as part of improving skills, and end long-term unemployment and low pay as part of increasing access to good work.

To deliver these ambitions, we argue for an extra £4.6 billion per year, a 20% increase on current levels of investment in education and employment for young people.

There’s ten core recommendations, but perhaps the key ones are:

  • We argue for more employment and skills funding to be devolved to local areas, underpinned by outcome agreements showing how that will help more young people to find work, build careers and improve skills.
  • We should aim for one in three young people to participate in an apprenticeship, backed by new investment and better funding incentives.
  • Kickstart should be extended beyond its planned end in December, eligibility widened to those not on benefits, and it should form the basis of a Job Guarantee for long-term unemployed young people.
  • Youth Allowance. Young people on benefits should combine study with looking for work, not just jobsearch alone. That requires more flexible learning opportunities, new skills for Work Coaches, and including 16-17 year olds.
  • Good work. We should end low pay by raising the minimum wage and focus on good work with progression and development opportunities.

The Youth Commission’s final report is 54 pages long. But it’s core message boils down to an ambition that every young person should have good education and employment prospects.

Let’s make that happen.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute

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