Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, DMH Associates & Associate Fellow, University of Warwick IER

This pandemic is inflicting a triple shock on young people 

Around the world, young people worldwide face considerable challenges. Societies everywhere are undergoing a deep transformation.

Even before the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, policymakers were reflecting on response to many types of disruption:

  • Industry 4.0
  • Rapid technological advancement
  • The challenges of climate change
  • And – in some countries – an ageing population and workforce

Now, the Covid-19 crisis has created a new set of immediate and longer-term problems.

The pandemic is inflicting a triple shock on young people. Not only is it destroying their employment, but it is also disrupting education and training, and placing major obstacles in the way of those seeking to enter the labour market or to move between jobs.” (International Labour Organisation, 2020)

Anticipated increase in young people with mental health conditions 

Today (6 Jul), a new report on Youth Transitions: Creating Pathways to Success, co-authored by Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE and Graeme Smith, sets out international evidence which shows the Covid-19 will exacerbate existing problems faced by young people.

Prolonged social isolation and stress are expected to increase the incidences of young people with mental health conditions.

The report argues for new spaces and places in local communities to help support young people and parents. It showcases examples from other countries outside of England where innovative approaches are being adopted.

An economic plan to deal with the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis

The Treasury has committed to provide 30,000 new traineeships to get young people in England into work, including classroom-based lessons in maths, English and CV writing, as well as up to 90 hours of unpaid work experience. They last from six weeks to six months and they are open to people aged between 16 and 24 starting September 2020.

Under the £111m funding boost, firms in England will be given £1,000 for each work-experience place they offer. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive £21m for similar schemes.

More detail will be announced by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday when he will unveil an economic plan to deal with the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis.

This comes on top of an anticipated £32m extra to the National Careers Service which ministers says will allow a quarter of a million more people to benefit from expert careers advice in their search for jobs. Sunak will say that the government will recruit hundreds more careers advisers – meaning close to 270,000 more people will receive bespoke advice to support them into the world of work. Also, a doubling of Jobcentre Plus staff ‘work coaches’ to help those who have lost their jobs.

What we don’t know is whether (a) this would include Year13 school leavers and (b) there will be any further statement in Year11 leavers, over and above the extension of CEC Careers Hubs? Also, does the additional careers adviser numbers include the increased JobCentre Plus capacity announcements?

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Youth unemployment is expected to escalate

Around the world, more than four in ten young people (aged 15-24) were employed in hard-hit sectors when the crisis began, and nearly 77% of this cohort were in informal jobs, compared to 60% of workers aged 25 and above.[1]

New youth policies and innovative practices will be necessary to address a potential tsunami of youth unemployment and prolonged transitions between education and the world of work.

There are some promising signs: generally, children and young people worldwide have high aspirations and ambitions for their futures,[2] and many are overwhelmingly positive about change.[3] Yet, inequalities in life chances and living standards are widening.

Public spending on education favours children from the richest households, with the poorest 20% receiving less than 10% of public resources in education.[4]

The result is that the most disadvantaged children and young people are less likely to receive the education and develop the skills they need to adapt and prosper in a changing world.

Public investment in infrastructure

Hughes and Smith recommend public investment in infrastructure with an emphasis on youth;

  • private investment in the provision of local spaces and places for young people to develop their knowledge and skills about the world of work;
  • third sector investment in community cohesion and engagement with youth;
  • coordinated implementation of active labour market policies for unemployed young people;
  • introduction of pro-youth tax and benefits measures;
  • encouragement of part-time working among school-age young people to close the gap between schooling and the world of work;
  • improved access to vocational training;
  • taking advantage of new digital technologies;
  • designing and delivering a far-reaching and consistent communications strategy; and
  • listening to the voices of young people and parents.

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, DMH Associates & Associate Fellow, University of Warwick IER

[1] International Labour Organization (2020:2)

[2] Alam & de Diego (2019)

[3] WorldSkills (2019)

[4] Brown & Fore (2019)

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