The Office for National Statistics says youth unemployment in the United Kingdom is 20.5 percent. Minority youth unemployment is even higher, 44 percent among black and Pakistani Londoners.
Government has tried to address this problem in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on education, training and occasional other measures. But the statistics manifest this approach has not worked. Unemployment is destroying the youth — society’s hope and future — with serious political, economic and social consequences. A youth employment scheme with holistic approach, therefore, is essential to tackle this scourge.
The most energetic and creative group, the youth are also impressionable, vulnerable and volatile. If society does not tap their energy and creativity by giving them jobs and economic opportunities, unscrupulous elements will to commit crimes and foment social and political troubles. Angry unemployed youth were behind the British riots in 2011.
Unfortunately, the youth get a rough deal in the job market. In normal times, employers hire them last, only if experienced and qualified candidates are not available. In downturns, they fire young workers first. Consequently, youth unemployment is much higher than adult unemployment.
Though difficult to eliminate completely, youth unemployment can be significantly reduced through a holistic approach comprising pragmatic strategies. A Nigerian proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. To promote youth employment, it takes an entire society. Families, communities, schools, universities, businesses and government must cooperate to create a sustainable edifice of youth employment, including self-employment.
Parents are children’s first role models and family their first school. They often shape up children’s education, attitude, ambition, work ethics, even innate skills, and prospects for future employment. Parents must offer children stable home and inspire to acquire these positive traits. Dysfunctional families and parents cannot do that. Community and government, therefore, should enable families and parents to rise to this challenge.
An economically secure and socially mobile community motivates children to grow into fine citizens who seek progress and help others do the same through networking. Communities mired in poverty, crime, and addiction have higher youth unemployment. Government should work with social and religious leaders to fix such broken communities and invest to regenerate them, more so in bad economic times. Revival of Manhattan’s west side in New York offers a successful example.
Reforming education is fundamental to promoting youth employment. It requires several steps. First, schools and universities must meet the prescribed achievement standards or face cuts and closure. Too many of them are providing sub-standard education and still receiving government and community support. This should change.
Second, education must impart readily employable skills. There is a serious disconnect between education and skills needed in workplace. Government, schools and universities, and businesses should cooperate to restructure curricula and introduce teaching-learning materials and methods to equip students with practical skills to foster youth employment and self-employment.
Third, universities must also encourage students to do internship as part of graduation, and public and private organizations must open their doors for more interns to let them bridge the skill gap and build employable experience. Internship often leads to long-term employment. Increasingly, US corporations are recruiting interns as staff.
Fourth, education should respond to market needs. It has failed to meet the demand for medium-skilled plumbers, electricians, mechanics, masons, etc., and high-skilled scientists, mathematicians, teachers, information technologists, accountants, etc, in the United Kingdom. Government should promote higher intakes in trade schools and universities in such shortage areas and families should motivate children to enrol in them. Singapore has done this quite successfully.
Only a growing economy can absorb more young people. Government should, therefore, stimulate job-creating demand, investment and growth. First, it should increase wages or reduce taxes for groups having a high propensity to consume to enhance demand, which will push up investment. Particularly during downturns, it should launch public works to create jobs and provide businesses with tax credit and other incentives to encourage investment. The London Olympics in 2012, for example, brought a spike in growth and employment.
Second, government and businesses should join forces to create volunteering and apprenticeship opportunities so the youth can acquire experience. Many youth will be hired where they do volunteering or apprenticeship and others will become easily employable elsewhere. The British apprenticeship programme, criticized as exploitative and unfair, can be improved by tweaking it. Government, which provides the jobseekers allowance, should ask businesses to contribute an equivalent amount to remunerate apprentices; and businesses should try to place apprentices in or near jobs for which their qualifications match.
Third, making firing easy encourages hiring. However, it gives disproportionate advantage to employers over employees, creates low-paying jobs, and increases inequality further. This is happening in the USA. Fourth, government and family should encourage and facilitate the youth to take up jobs in labour shortage regions within the UK and abroad. Fifth, government should restructure the immigration system to ensure that foreign nationals compete only in skill-shortage sectors and jobs, not others.
These measures will help the youth find jobs and pursue self-employment. To reduce the appallingly high rates of minority youth unemployment, the American style affirmative action is also necessary for a short term.
Two additional measures will be necessary to promote self-employment: Government should offer young people training and low-interest venture capital, through a youth bank, to start businesses as individuals and cooperatives. It should also give preferential treatment in public contracts and procurement to the products and services of the self-employed, without which they cannot compete with big companies.
Government must establish a bureau to monitor the implementation of the youth employment scheme. It should motivate businesses to rise to their corporate responsibility of hosting and hiring interns and apprentices by publicly recognizing them.
The statistics show the piecemeal approach to tackling youth unemployment has not worked. If society fails to tap youth energy and creativity, rouge elements will. It is, therefore, time to pursue a holistic approach in which families, communities, educational institutes, government, and businesses collaborate to tackle youth unemployment in the UK and secure the country’s future.