by GK Strategy 13th August, 2015
3 min read

Why is it so hard for young people to get a job?

The latest statistics released by the Office for National Statistics don’t make for comfortable reading if you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough as I am to classify yourself within the 16-24 year old bracket. The unemployment rate for those aged from 16 to 24 currently sits at 16% and has been consistently higher than that for older age groups. On the other hand, since 2009, job vacancies have risen from 429,000 to around 730,000 in the period from April to June. So what is going on? Why is it so hard for young people to get a job?

One counterargument is the proportion of people aged from 16 to 24 who are in full-time education. This has increased substantially from 26.2% for March to May 1992 to 44.0% for April to June 2015. This has led to quite a drastic reduction in the size of the economically active population and therefore an increase in the unemployment rate as those individuals represent a much higher proportion of the economically active population who are unemployed.

But manipulating the figures can’t be the only reason, because when we compare it with other age groups in the labour market, there’s a stark difference between our younger workforce and others. 25-49 year olds have an unemployment rate of just 4.3% whilst the 50 and over category is even smaller at 3.3%. One of the explanations could be down to skills. 16-24 year olds are hugely disadvantaged when compared to their older, more experienced colleagues in the UK labour market, and therefore much less desirable. But the exclusion of younger people from our labour market not only hampers our economy but puts us at a disadvantage on the world stage, Germany’s unemployment rate, for example, in the same age range is less than half of that of the UK. The UK also lags behind countries like Latvia in unemployment rates for the young, even though most job opportunities there will require high-level qualifications, according to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, in contrast to medium-level opportunities in the UK.

The solutions and the problem simply aren’t straightforward. However, a recent announcement may just hold the key to finally tackling this immovable figure. The introduction of the living wage was met with a mixture of applause and criticism yet perhaps the most important feature of this policy is that it only applies to those aged over 25. It may well be that this is the impetus needed to make the 16-24 year old age bracket more attractive to employers, despite the argument that excluding them from this policy limits them to low-skilled, low paid jobs. This would statistically be a positive step in the right direction yet surely full employment has to be achieved through a mixture of high and low skilled employment to  truly achieve a productive, prosperous and profitable labour market.

There is a multitude of variables and influences to the problems surrounding youth unemployment but the reality is that it leaves us at a disadvantage as a society and as individuals. Our young people should be the drivers of productivity, the labour market and our economy as a whole and their seeming inability to access the labour market not just disadvantages them but affects us all on the road to a stronger economy.

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