The latest unemployment statistics published by the government today show that, while unemployment as a whole has fallen, youth unemployment has bucked the trend and is rising.
There are a number of factors that affect the youth unemployment figures, not least the seasonal labour impact of Christmas. Young people fill many of the short-term and temporary jobs that are available during the Christmas period, so it is understandable that when they end, there will be an increase in youth unemployment in January.
However, the current problems run deeper than that. The continuing high-profile crisis on the High Street, with the recent collapse of more big name retailers such as Blockbuster and HMV, also has a disproportionate impact on young people. They make up a sizeable part of the workforce in this area and the job opportunities available to them have been significantly reduced since the financial crisis began.
The fact that unemployment has fallen overall demonstrates that youth unemployment cannot be treated in the same way as unemployment in the wider workforce. It requires policies that tackle the particular problems affecting those under the age of 25. We need to address the barriers to employment that young people face and create more and better opportunities for them to enter the workplace.
Other countries in the world already do this to great success. As we’ve noted previously, countries like Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have implemented specific youth employment policies to address the problems within their economies.
When Denmark’s youth unemployment levels rose following the onset of the financial crisis, they introduced new policies that have ensured long-term youth unemployment has remained low (less than 10% have been unemployed for over a year, compared to 25% in the UK). Germany has a very strong apprenticeship system that has actually helped youth unemployment to fall during the financial crisis. The Netherlands introduced policies in the early 1980s to increase flexibility in the employment market and those policies have kept youth unemployment at low levels throughout the last five years of economic uncertainty.
What each of these countries has recognised is that young people face a different set of problems from the rest of the population in trying to find work. Their policies are also an acknowledgement of the importance of the under-25s to their economies. If we want to improve our economic prospects here in the UK, then we need to start addressing the specific issues of youth unemployment.