On Wednesday of this week, the Office for National Statistics will release its latest monthly employment figures. Because of other events happening that day, this month’s statistics may not receive the attention they warrant but, if youth unemployment figures rise as they are expected to do, then the UK will have over a million young people Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET).
Quite frankly, that is an unacceptable statistic. We may be in a period of unprecedented economic stagnation but the situation will get far worse if we are unable to find a way to support this generation to get the training and jobs that they need.
There is plenty of evidence to show that being unemployed for a protracted period of time before the age of 24 can have a permanent scarring effect on young people, increasing the likelihood of further periods of unemployment in later life. If we are to try and protect against this, then we need a far more effective programme of education that prepares young people for the challenges of adult life while they are still in school.
If we cannot guarantee them a job when they leave education, we should at least be ensuring that anyone leaving education has the skills and knowledge to cope in today’s difficult economy. Giving them better information about the jobs market, ensuring they all have a basic standard of financial literacy, helping them to acquire the skills that employers want – these are all things that can be taught effectively in the classroom, an environment where they can afford to makes mistakes, unlike the adult world they will be entering.
The academic achievements of many young people will count for nothing if they struggle to find work during those early years after education. That is why our education system should also be helping them to recognise where their strengths lie and preparing them for the process of finding a job.
We need a co-ordinated combination of careers advice and practical financial education that places a clear emphasis on the importance of employment as the means by which they can achieve their aspirations. It won’t reduce that figure of a million young people without work, but it will give them a fighting chance of surviving those turbulent first years after education, while they wait for the economy to recover.