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Healing the scars: Recommendations and realities of youth unemployment

One of the areas I have researched as an intern at Nesta is policy recommendations aimed at reducing youth unemployment. This blog explores a few of the more interesting recommendations in light of my own recent experience.

When I graduated from university last year, I held the naïve belief that everything I'd heard about the jobs market was a myth. 

I had every faith that a degree and a strong work ethic would lead me to the secure arms of a fulltime employer in no time. 

Ten months, five interviews and two internships later, a world weary, dime a dozen, unemployed graduate remains. 

At university, I did my best to build up a good CV and develop those all-important 'transferable skills', and I had a job in the holidays.  So with a clear conscience I began to tackle the big question of what to do with the rest of my life, whilst failing to grasp what graduating in a recession actually meant. 

What evaded me was that youth unemployment has a 'scarring effect' on earnings later on in life.  Six months of youth unemployment can reduce earnings by between 13 and 21% as much as 20 years later.  The longer the unemployment, the greater the scars[i].  Learning this fact has already cost me a few sleepless nights, but I am doing all I can to find a job, so what practical policy solutions exist to protect a generation some are already writing off as a 'lost generation' from becoming lost? 

Having undertaken research in this area, below are some recommendations and analysis, with reflections from my own experience.

1. Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion:  High quality career services are critical; therefore the government should set clear standards schools must meet.[ii] 

Reality: High-quality career advice for those leaving education at 16 is imperative.  But the reality for many young people, including myself, is that access this service is needed later on.  I needed such a service about three months after I graduated, precisely at the point where I could not access a high-quality career service for love nor money.  Thus good accessible careers services need to be available to all 16 - 24 year olds. 

2. DEMOS: Make one-to-one job search advice mandatory after three months of unemployment for young people and after two months for those deemed at risk.[iii] 

Reality: One-to-one job search advice should be mandatory from the start, after a young person has had their initial signing on meeting. People want to get back into employment in their chosen field as soon as possible and such a tailored service could reduce the unemployment period greatly.   

3. Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion: Introduce a universal youth credit, extending the remit to include 16 and 17 year olds so that they are entitled to the same benefits as 18 - 24 year olds.  This would also be paid to all learners in families with low incomes, with the incentive to stay in education[iv]

Reality: It seems only fair that 16 and 17 year olds undertaking the same types of employment as 18 - 24 year olds should be entitled to the same benefits.  What would be excellent is if this universal youth credit simplified the system for 16 - 24 years olds.  I know from my own experience that the system is very complex.  Therefore greater access to a simplified system can only be a good thing.    

All three of the aforementioned recommendations, if taken up by government, would have a positive impact on helping youth unemployment. However, I would like to sign off with some thoughts about barriers that need addressing, born out of my own experience of seeking work.  

  1. The short-term focus of getting people into any form of employment should be coupled with a long-term goal of helping guide young people into careers by continuing career advice during employment in order to support people to sustain work and progress.
  2. A barrier to the employment of young people is employers mistaking age as being synonymous with experience. There is nothing more soul destroying than losing out to a candidate at interview, who has exactly the same experience, purely because they have a few more years of life on you.  
  3. Finally, legislation around unpaid internships needs to addressed, when tackling youth unemployment. There should be clear legislation making it illegal not to pay interns, unless your company has charitable status. This would make internships more accessible as well as offering vital experience and skills development[v].    



[i] http://www.cesi.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/Young_people_and_unemployment_FINAL.pdf, p.9

[ii] http://www.cesi.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/Young_people_and_unemployment_FINAL.pdf, p.5

[iii] http://www.demos.co.uk/files/Youths_labour_-_web.pdf?1320142580, p.16

[iv] http://www.cesi.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/Young_people_and_unemployment_FINAL.pdf, p54.

[v] Nesta as a company make it their policy to pay all their interns the living wage. An interesting read on the topic of paying interns is the report 'Why Interns Deserve A Fair Wage'


Katherine Stevenson

Katherine Stevenson

Katherine Stevenson

Research Assistant

Katherine is a research assistant for the Policy and Research Team at Nesta.

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