It’s only Tuesday and we’re already on to our second significant report of the week! After yesterday’s IPPR report on vocational education, today sees the publication of International Lessons: youth unemployment in the global context from The Work Foundation.
The report looks at youth unemployment throughout the world and flags up the fact that the UK has had the fastest rise in youth unemployment of any G8 country since the recession began, and now has the third worst levels in the OECD.
The Work Foundation report considers those countries that have experienced relatively low levels of youth unemployment during the financial crisis, most notably Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, and offers suggestions as to how the UK could follow their lead and adopt (or adapt) their most successful policies to tackle the problem.
To my mind, the most interesting and significant part of the report is the chapter on Denmark. Despite having had a decade of low and stable youth unemployment, when the recession hit, the country saw a rapid rise in its jobless figures for 15-24 year olds that brought it in line with the rest of Europe and it remains at those levels today.
But what distinguishes the Danish experience from that of the UK is that, even though its total youth unemployment figures rose, its levels of long-term youth unemployment did not. Less than 10 per cent of Denmark’s unemployed young people have been out of work for more than a year, compared with nearly 25 per cent in the UK.
There are many differences between our two economies that could be used to explain such a disparity in long-term youth unemployment yet, as the report suggests, the most notable factor is surely the approach of the Danish government.
Rather than appearing on the Danish version of Newsnight to spout glib platitudes about how wonderful young people are and how much they sympathise with their predicament, Danish politicians from across the political spectrum have spent much of the last twenty years developing labour market policies that support and encourage people in their pursuit of work. At the heart of those policies is a strong emphasis on vocational training and education that leads to improved qualifications and skills.
Those policies have also been monitored and updated over time. Although they were introduced as a universal measure for the job market, when youth unemployment began to rise the Danish government introduced specific changes designed to target young people. This process of evolution means that the education offered matches the demands of the Danish economy and supports young people of all skill levels, not just those with the highest aptitude for development.
To introduce something similar in Britain would need a far more pro-active and focused approach to vocational learning than we currently have, as well as an acknowledgement that the issues of youth unemployment differ from that of unemployment as whole.
Above all, we would need to recognise that a much more targeted programme of education and support is essential to provide our young people with the skills they need to build careers of their own. Unfortunately, as yesterday’s IPPR report showed, that would also be the exact opposite of the approach the UK is currently taking.