Mind the gap – the scandal of school-to-work transition

Youth unemployment is at record levels and the truth is that this is not purely a result of the recession or austerity measures; in fact, youth unemployment has been rising since the early 2000s.  If we are to stop this trend and fix the deeper structural issues surrounding youth unemployment we need to focus our attention on another scandal in our communities: the large number of young people who are failing to make a successful transition from school into the world of work. Many young people are being let down. They are leaving school without the skills or experience employers are looking for and ultimately, this is fuelling an even greater youth unemployment crisis.

Through our programme called ThinkForward, which places super coaches in schools who work with young people most at risk of not making a successful transition into work, we have learnt that there is no single answer or easy fix. But there are some simple things which can be done to help young people navigate their way from education into the labour market.

1. Start young – from the age of 14 years when young people are making GCSE decisions they need information about the types of jobs in their local area and guidance on the skills, experience and qualifications required for entry into these jobs. They also need space to discuss their future career goals and aspirations with teachers, mentors and professionals who will inspire them to succeed.

2. Contact with employers – research by the Education and Employers task force found that young people who recalled ‘four or more employer contacts’ were five times less likely to be NEET. The tragedy is that only 7% of those questioned recalled four such activities taking place. Surely, those of us who who work in  schools, voluntary organisations and the business community could together provide opportunities for young people to have meaningful experiences of work. As we have found through ThinkForward, this can include activities as simple as visiting a workplace or having a local business leader speak at a school to more involved activities such as having a dedicated mentor or completing a work experience placement.

3. Responsibility for post-sixteen destinations – the pressures schools face to achieve GCSE results coupled with recent changes to the provision of careers education and guidance mean there is little room in the curriculum for ’employability skills’. Yet if young people don’t learn these skills during their time at school, how can we expect them to be work ready when they leave? Businesses and charities must play their part and schools also must ensure they are giving young people the very best chance of future success once they walk through the school gates for the final time.

4. Extra support for the most vulnerable – our ThinkForward super coaches support young people most at risk of making a successful transition, from the age of fourteen through to nineteen. We believe this continuity of support helps young people not only get a job or college course but to stay with it.  There has been much criticism of employment programmes that last for three or six months with no ongoing support. For those furthest away from the labour market, having a named coach who will stick with them and help them navigate the complexities of their personal life and the world of work can make the difference between a young person making a successful transition from school into work or getting stuck in a gap unemployment with significantly reduced prospects.

Rhian Johns is the Policy and Communications Director at Private Equity Foundation and will be speaking at The Work Foundation and Private Equity Foundation’s next fringe event at the Labour Party Conference.

Give the next generation a chance: it might be easier than you think

Young people are either unable or taking longer to secure a first foot on the job ladder.  In England alone, around 450,000 NEETs have yet to make the move from learning into work, outside casual or holiday jobs.  There’s evidence that more employers expect applicants to be ‘job ready’ leading to a catch 22: no skills, no job; no job, no skills.

For the sake of all our futures, we need to close the growing gulf our young people face between leaving school and finding employment.  In the current economic climate that’s a big ask, but employers unable to offer young people jobs or apprenticeships can still have a role.


At a recent Work Foundation event, Dr Anthony Mann, Director of Policy and Research at the Education and Employers Taskforce, pointed to a relationship between the extent of employer engagement arranged during school years (14-19) and the successful labour market progression of young adults (19-24).  He found that each employer contact improved the odds of being non-NEET by 29 per cent.


The provision of work shadowing, mentoring, workplace visits or talks in schools all make a difference.


And, despite the current controversy, in interviews carried out as part of a recent Work Foundation report, one important area where long-term young unemployed people felt they had not received the support they needed was around access to opportunities like work experience.  It’s just got to be offered in the right way, not exploitative but opening up new networks and avenues which could lead to a job.


There’s plenty of scope. For example last year, research by Demos found that ‘shockingly’ there is currently little to no engagement from local employers or businesses in school ‘career fairs’.


We all remember the person who gave us our first break.  If you’re an employer, could you give a young person a helping hand – a connection to the world of work?  As one young person quoted by The Work Foundation said “I love working, I love being busy…If someone could just give me a chance.”


Shaks Ghosh, Chief Executive, Private Equity Foundation

Youth unemployment: Cyclical or Structural


It is easy to assume that Youth Unemployment is merely another sign of recession Britain, yet our recent research project in partnership with The Work Foundation suggests otherwise.  Youth Unemployment was on the rise long before the recession hit and although our post 2007 world has done nothing to alleviate the issue it is not the only factor.  In some parts of the UK 1 in 3 young people are not in employment yet are we worried?  Youth Unemployment is cyclical and although the recession has had a detrimental effect it is not the only cause.  To ensure young people land safely in the labour market, we need to fix both the cyclical and the structural and if we don’t, economic recovery will not be enough to get our young people into work.

The costs are too high to ignore.  The current cohort of young people not in education training or employment will cost the UK economy £35 billion in lost economic opportunities and cost the taxpayer £13 billion over their lifetimes. (Audit commission 2010)  Wage scarring is also likely; Young people who are unemployed for a long time will earn less throughout their whole lives. They will be less employable. They won’t have the skills that business needs and they are more likely to have long-term health problems. The costs are economic, societal and individual – what a waste.

Last year the Private Equity Foundation developed a “Manifesto for action”, a ten point plan for improving the way we as a nation tackle the NEET issue.  It looks at strategic enablers and more pragmatic approaches for getting young people into work.  It highlighted that some of the barriers to work can be as straightforward and solvable as transport being too expensive for some to seek or start work or as culturally significant as a lack of motivation. We heard some stark statements from young people on what they believe the problems to be: services are often termed “irrelevant”, or “confusing and difficult to navigate”, formal, classroom training “lacks relevance” for some in this group and depressingly others commented that there are no second chances. “If at first you don’t succeed, you don’t succeed”.

We are keen to hear more from employers.  Why do they struggle to recruit young people, what are the barriers?  We often ask whether our young people are ready for work, but how ready is the world of work for our young people?

Another crucial element in understanding the barriers our young people are facing is that of local labour market supply and demand.  The UK is not one labour market, but rather is many localised labour markets, each with differing needs and requiring different skills.  Are we giving the local labour market an adequate voice in the preparation and skilling of our young people?  Are we training young people for jobs that simply do not exist or not training them for opportunities which are in demand?  Do young people having realistic expectations of the labour market; I’d ask is there also a need for employers to be realistic about their role in training and skilling young people?

We are working in in partnership with The Work Foundation on a two year research programme which will take a deeper look at some of these issues. Throughout the programme we will be looking at both short and long term ways to help young people become productive members of the labour market and putting forward policy recommendations for fixing both the cyclical and structural relationship our young people have with it – you can view the research papers here  and would love to hear your comments.

Rhian Johns

Private Equity Foundation