At the start of the 21st century, facing declining opportunities in the labour market – despite being the highest qualified ever, young people were (rather unfortunately, as we argued in our 2010 book ) referred to as the ‘lost generation’.
Ten years later, youth’s position in society has continued to remain precarious. Now, with schools, colleges and universities in lock-down and another prolonged recession around the corner, despite being the least likely to be infected by the virus, another generation will be on the front line again.
Little over a month ago, A-levels were cancelled and so 250 000 candidates, though free of the stress and anxiety that accompanies this annual summer ritual, now face other uncertainties as grades are arranged between schools and exam boards and universities, facing their own crisis, can’t be sure about how many students they will be able to admit. Meanwhile those on BTEC and other vocational courses have been shunted into another siding.
Many of those slightly older, expecting to graduate this summer, but being sent home in March (though there are reports of students languishing on empty campuses) to finish dissertations, yet still required to pay their fees, now find their post university plans won’t materialise as the traditional graduate employers delay, freeze or even cancel direct recruitment and internships. For employers trying to protect existing staff, allocating funds for training new ones is out of the question.
Surveys show 40% of students are worried they will not get a job at all. Rather than take work they are hugely overqualified to do; it’s being predicted that more will stay in education for longer and enrol for post- graduate courses – maybe a good move from the point of view of the individual student, but at the same time likely to increase the number of those ‘over-qualified but underemployed’.
But not all young people are university students and many of those already working are likely to lose their jobs. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported in early April , the sectors that are shut down as a result of social distancing measures employ nearly a third (30%) of all employees under the age of 25 (25% of young men and 36% of young women). Of course there are some young workers in high earning secure managerial, professional or technical positions and many more in full-time employment in the public sector; but elsewhere they stand less chance of being ‘furloughed’ than older established staff.
Young people, the group affected most by the fallout from the 2008 crash then faced further hikes in university tuition fees, had to make do with low-paid service sector, or ‘reinvented’ apprenticeships rarely providing real alternatives. At the end of 2019 over 1 in 10 of those under 24 were still classified as NEET. With the impending recession likely to be the worst ever, what price for the covid generation?