Their Lordships, even if, as one of the most archaic parts of the British state, many of whom are unlikely to have had any real personal contact with working class young people, have commissioned a two hundred page report on youth joblessness.
With a committee membership stretching from Lord (Kenneth) Baker, as education minister under Mrs Thatcher, the creator of the school National Curriculum, to Baroness (Christine) Blower -previously General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers that was, this is a wide ranging document, covering everything from the failure of the Tory’s Kickstart programme, to the dangers of T-Levels being a ‘one-size fits all’ alternative to academic education (the Lords have called for proposed cuts to BTEC funding to be delayed) and funding levels in FE.
In addition to reminding us that youth unemployment remains much higher than for the population as a whole, the report contains many positive proposals for increased support for unemployed youth. Researchers should be grateful for the up to date statistical sources on which they have based these.
But like so much of the policy agenda that has come before, its central argument is that many young people lack the necessary skills and attributes to successfully enter the labour market and in particular, to address the challenges of the digital economies of the 21st century. These problems are intensified by the low status of technical and vocational education, the narrowness of the school curriculum, a lack of proper careers education and support, the badly designed apprenticeship levy. The list is long.
This site and the recent e-book
has continued to argue that by itself there is no ‘education and training’ solution to youth unemployment. The lack of labour market opportunities for young people requires alternative economic policies, in particular, job guarantees for those who have completed appropriate levels of training. along with some form of youth basic income, rather than a reliance on student loans and means testing.
It has also questioned the extent to which the economy and labour market of the future will be ‘high skilled’. This is not to say that there isn’t going to be an increased need for IT and AI professionals, but that the extent of this should not be exaggerated. Neither is it to argue that those entering employment in the future will not need ‘digital skills’, only to point out that these are as likely to be restricted to basic data processing roles, as much as they are computer programming.
The Lord’s report makes clear that its prime concern is with the prospects of those young people not going progressing to university. and it’s certainly the case that the lower a young person’s qualification level, then the more likely they are to be unemployed. But it does not address the fact that a major problem for relatively highly educated young people is also ‘underemployment.’ In fact, youth joblessness in the UK is lower than the EU average but this certainly does not mean that the experience of young people entering the labour market is a positive one.
It’s true, as the report notes, that those finishing higher level work based apprenticeships may well earn more than graduates, but it’s also the case that employers increasingly recruit graduates for work for which a degree is not necessary to do, pushing those less qualified further down the jobs queue. In other words, young people are facing a ‘jobs’ as much as a ‘skills’ crisis. The established relationship between education and employment has broken down – we need a new economic model.