Some Thoughts About Youth Unemployment
I’ve been worried about youth unemployment for some time. The recent rise to a figure over a million has really put this at the top of the agenda, both politically and in our everyday lives. Most readers will know someone who is either trying to get a start in the world of work, or will be doing so in the next few years.
But the problem is much wider than we think. The uncomfortable truth is that youth unemployment has been rising stubbornly for 10 years or more. The global downturn has thrown more graduates on the job seeking queues but for one category this has been happening for years.
The graph below shows how youth unemployment rose from 11.7% in 2001 to 19.6% in 2010 (it’s over 21% now) – between 1990 (not on graph) and 2001 it rose very slightly, from 10.4% to 11.7%, but between 2001 and 2008 (start of the recession) it rose from 11.7% to 15%…and this is during an economic boom.
Now look at this graph – taken from a House of Commons briefing document on Youth Unemployment from January 2011 – which shows it much more starkly, and also shows where the real problem lies…
There are considerable differences between the rates of unemployment for 16-17 year olds – 38.4% in January 2011 – and those for 18-24 year olds – 20.1% a year ago. The rate for 16-17 year olds has followed a different pattern since the mid-1990s – unlike the rate for 18-24 year olds, it did not drop between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s.
For more commentary around this you should read two pieces by the Daily Telegraph political and economic blogger Daniel Knowles – his provocatively titled There are no jobs left for the dim and the more recent Youth unemployment is the inevitable result of globalisation.
One thing is clear, there are no longer clock on/clock off, 9 to 5, conveyor belt style jobs for those who leave school at 16 with precious few skills and qualifications. The kind of jobs that used to provide some security and the chance at least to earn a regular wage, raise a family and make a contribution. Alas manufacturing employs about a third of the workforce it did 30 years ago and many lower skilled jobs have been swallowed up by technological advance and outsourcing.
And the situation is getting worse. The kind of entry level jobs that a service sector dominated by retail and leisure could offer – say shelf stacking in a supermarket – can now be done by unemployed graduates, at the taxpayers’ expense with no cost to the employer.
Of course we all know about the ‘snooty’ (sic) graduate who wasn’t happy about working at Poundland…except that most people with a view got it wrong. She had ALREADY done the work and found – as I would have thought anyone involved in HR or recruitment would have realised – that the ‘work skills’ she got were of no use in the employment market, and that doing the work took her away from her search for a job.
She had also done her homework and found that both the previous government, and this one, had research to show that workfare – or work for your benefits – doesn’t work. In fact from studying similar schemes in the US and Australia the writers of the report found no evidence that these schemes help people gain employment.
So if our young ‘blue collar’ jobseekers can’t get shelf stacking work, what are the equivalent jobs at entry level today?
Call centres? Customer service? – all jobs that need a level of social skills, conversational ability and awareness that they are unlikely to possess.
Barista?? – you need to be a graduate…and according to this piece in the London Evening Standard possibly not one from the UK either.
With 40% of 16-18 year old school leavers unemployed, this is not just an employment problem…it’s a social problem.
I believe that there is some momentum within the Recruitment and HR sector to try and make a difference here. Last week’s blog from Neil Morrison was well received, and the RECs Youth Employment Taskforce has some good recommendations. And it’s my belief that in the absence of growth we need businesses to take more action despite the cost.
I do hope that attention is turned towards the 16-17 year olds, as most headlines and thought pieces invariably focus on unemployed graduates.
Barely a day goes by when I don’t hear someone complaining that they have a trainee vacancy for a graduate but, despite high youth unemployment, they can’t find anyone. The statement is usually suffixed with a ‘when I left uni we took any job to make sure we had work’ – and they are probably right.
During my time working in the recruitment to recruitment sector I spent quite a bit of it sourcing trainees…they always had to be graduates, even though the role was in essence a business to business sales role. There was a definite shift from mid 90s to early 00s though from graduates with work experience within a sector or industry to those with little work experience who could demonstrate sales ability. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to place anyone whose work post university had been barista, customer service or shelf stacker.
But sales nous wasn’t all. They needed to demonstrate an interest in the recruitment sector. They needed to know how it worked, and be able to demonstrate why they wanted to work in it, showing how their personal skills would add value to a company. They had to go through 2 or 3 rounds of interviews, possibly with an assessment sector thrown in. They needed to demonstrate hunger – not just hunger to get a job, but hunger to work within THAT sector doing THAT job.
Not sure how many of the ‘when I left uni we took any job to make sure we had work’ brigade had to go through that.
Not easy to do if you’re in the job market looking for employment and would quite happily work in any job…which after all is the flexibility we expect to see in our unemployed graduates.
And once they have demonstrated all of that knowledge and desire they get a probation period, followed by KPIs and regular performance management reviews at which they need to show progress and a commitment to advancement.
So returning to the ES piece I first linked to above, what are some of the qualities you need to demonstrate to secure a job in the boot camp kitchen of a chain of sandwich shops, working for 32p an hour above minimum wage (and £1.90 an hour less than ‘London living wage’)?
Honesty and flexibility – these are actually part-time roles and you need to be available to come in at short notice.
Commitment – they will invest a lot in staff training, so don’t want people who say, ‘I really want to be an architect’ (sic)
Research – yep, you need to know all about the company
Prepare your spiel - examples of previous roles where you have shown the core characteristics (not easy if you have little or no work experience)
Keep smiling and muck in…and the list goes on.
It’s a lot for a part time minimum wage role, but you see they want people who actually want to do this for a career…not those who would rather be doing something else. Rather like the recruitment trainees I mentioned before.
So next time you want to know why an unemployed graduate isn’t applying for your role think about what you want from them and what they are going to have to do to convince you (or your client) to employ them.
And try to think skills. I attended a very illuminating session from Heidricks at the HR Directors Summit recently in which they presented their global report on talent outlook to 2015 with some findings on future trends.
One was that today’s entrants in to the job market will have had 14 jobs by the time they are 38 – which is probably correct given the fragmented, part time nature of many of today’s roles.
The other was that they are loyal to their skills. Previous generations were loyal to a company, a job, an industry, but these guys will be loyal to their own skills and knowledge.
Maybe instead of advertising for that job you should advertise for the skills you want.
Hiring companies are no longer looking for someone who just wants to work…they are looking for someone who wants THE work. This is a shift that I don’t think we take into account enough.
A final thought and a final link. Youth unemployment is a scar that could end up blighting our society for generations to come. And it’s global. If you haven’t already read about how Apple’s global success hasn’t translated into domestic jobs, you should.