The unemployed, the economically inactive and the NEETs

Figures released today by the ONS show youth unemployment (16-24-year olds) down to 12.2%, still nearly three times the rate for the population generally, but close to the 2001 low of 11.6%. (Youth joblessness reached 22.5% in 2011.)

But in many respects, these figures are of limited use. For example, over a third of those recorded as unemployed are full-time students looking for part-time work  – the 3.8 million 16-24-year olds in the labour market also include 860 000 full-time students doing part-time work.

Figures for youth unemployment should not be confused with the number of NEETs (Those not in  education, employment  or training) however.  According to figures published towards the end of 2017, 790 000 16-24-year olds were recorded as being NEET, 11.1% of the entire age group. 

Yet only 38% of NEETs were unemployed, the remainder being ‘economically inactive’ meaning they were not looking or available for work. (About a third of female NEETs were recorded as having domestic/care responsibilities preventing them looking for work, but the number of men in this category was practically non-existent.)

If totals for the unemployed and economically inactive are combined however, then almost 1 in 4 of those not in full-time education would fall into this category. A more accurate assessment of youth joblessness.




Education and the digital age

Discussion continues about the employment itimplications of Artificial Intelligence and robotics. If there is an emerging consensus, then it’s that there will be continued automation of ‘routine’ work   –particularly clerical, administrative and secretarial jobs in offices/banks for example, but that  ‘non-routine’ and  ‘personalised’ jobs, that are more difficult and more expensive to automate will likely continue to expand.

All this has serious implications for schools, colleges and universities. In recent months, both the Institute of Directors and the CBI have produced material that calls for a rethink of the school curriculum, with more of an emphasis on ‘soft’ skills like team-working and on ‘thinking skills’ – like ‘learning how to learn’ for example. Although employer organisations also continue to emphasise the importance of STEM subjects and improving standards in literacy and numeracy.

With a changing labour market, employer representative are probably correct to say there should be a more ‘generic’ approach to learning (though it’s less clear however, if specialist vocational education, such as the new Tech-levels, due to be rolled out from 2019 should be prioritised – as people are likely to engage in a wide variety of employment practices and move across occupational sectors, during their working life). The IoD has criticised the emphasis still placed on the transmission of subject knowledge, although stopped short of directly criticising the Ebacc, while the CBI has argued employers value positive attitudes and ‘resilience’ above formal academic qualifications. Compared with the high stakes testing culture that turns schools into ‘exam factories’ many teachers would also welcome this approach.

But employer organisations, governments and some educationalists paint a very rosy picture of the 21st century labour market however – as many of the new jobs are as likely to be low-paid service jobs, as they are highly paid professional and managerial roles. While its certainly true that more jobs will require ‘digital’ skills, this doesn’t necessarily mean that those doing them will need to be graduates in computer science, or even proficient in programming or coding. Thus, the Parliamentary Science and Technology sub-committee 2016/17 report, correctly highlighting the dangers of digital illiteracy, noted that 90% of new jobs would require digital skills ‘to some degree’.  In otherwords, rather than a plethora of well-paid jobs at the top, the labour market will continue to polarise or become ‘pear shaped’ – as a small technical elite breaks away from the rest. Even now, many employers report that the young people they recruit are more than competent for the work they do and in many cases, may be overqualified.

It’s also the case that while employer representatives criticise the over-emphasis on academic learning, academic qualifications awarded by top ‘elite’ universities will continue to have buying power for those who obtain them. In the eyes of many individual employers, Classics from Oxbridge will probably always suffice over Business Studies from a post 1994 university and many large employers admit to only recruiting from leading Russell universities. This shows that it’s the status of qualifications and institutions rather than the content of courses that continues to be most important.

As the number of higher paid jobs fails to keep up with the number of those ‘qualified’ to be able to do them, competition to secure prestigious qualifications and gain entry to prestigious institutions can only become more intense. But rather than leaving it to employers, education reformers and teacher unions should set their own agenda which, rather than merely emphasising the importance of new work skills, sets out the reasons for providing a good 21st century ‘general education’ for everybody as part of a new lifelong learning. 


Apprenticeship troubles continue

It’s nine months since the introduction of an employer’s levy – designed to raise an additional £3 million for the apprenticeships programme and help government reach its total of 3 million more apprenticeship starts by 2020.

But the apprenticeship levy only applies to large employers with a wage bill of more than £3 million (approximately 2% of all employers) who are required to pay 0.5% of this. This money will be paid into an account and can only be spent on approved apprenticeship training – with the government adding 10%.

Research from the influential CIPD shows that while these employers are more likely to offer apprenticeships than their smaller counterparts, almost 1 in 4 still plan to ‘write off’ this expenditure as a tax. According to CIPD levy payers are also likely to spend some the funds the on ‘rebadging’ existing employees as apprentices – a major problem with the old system of apprenticeship finance.

The CIPD report also shows that rather than being required to spend funds on apprenticeships, many levy paying employers would rather pay a more general ‘training levy’ –  training levies exist in other European countries and still exist in some UK economic sectors like building and construction.

Non-levy paying employers must pay at least 10% of the cost of apprenticeships and organise their own training (though all employers receive extra funds for employing a 16-18-year-old) and it’s the lack of take up by smaller employers that may well mean the government’s 3 million target isn’t met. For this to happen, the number of starts will have to significantly increase – but figures for 2016/17 show a fall on previous years and worryingly the period May to June 2017 saw a 60% reduction (this period coincided with the introduction of the levy!)

Most apprenticeships, despite new standards designed to improve quality (20% of training must now be ‘off the job’) are also still more likely to be offered at Level 2 (GCSE) without clear routes of progression and there are very few at Higher Level. Just a quarter of all starts are by under 19-year olds.

Patrick Ainley – discussion paper on Michael Gove

Michael+Gove+I1JuslSh34JmRevisiting Michael Gove et al’s 2005 pamphlet, DIRECT DEMOCRACY, An Agenda for a New Model Party, this article finds in it the blueprint for power Gove made in campaigning to leave the EU that indicates an unfinished Agenda for English primary and secondary education under ‘hard Brexit’ complementing measures proposed for tertiary education in the Higher Education and Research Bill


The Tories have increased social mobility!

Patrick Ainley   Guardian Letter

7538Contrary to the assertions of Alan Milburn (Observer 2 December*), the Tories have dramatically increased social mobility. However, it is general, absolute, DOWNWARD social mobility that has increased, whilst the limited, relative, upward social mobility of the post-war, welfare state period is nowadays so statistically insignificant as to be exceptional. 

As the traditional post-war class pyramid has gone pear-shaped, a select few children of the (mainly skilled) manual working class can no longer move into non-manual administrative and professional careers. Instead, those in a new middle/working class are running up a down-escalator of devalued qualifications, desperate not to fall into the reconstituted reserve army of labour in low-paid, insecure, unskilled and increasingly precarious jobs – perhaps 40% of all employees by some estimates. Meanwhile, formerly secure professions are automated and deskilled. Contracted out and working to targets as demand dictates, they are reduced to the level of increasingly fungible wage labour.

 The result is a dramatic increase in both the rate and volume of that catch-all term ‘social mobility’!



Wanted: a POST INDUSTRIAL strategy

After last week’s budget, we now get  the government’s Theresa+May+Chancellor+Leaves+Downing+Street+iPElQT64J6Wlequally uninspiring ‘industrial strategy’. Based on proposals published in January of this year, the 250 page Building a Britain fit for the future  claims to provide ‘a new approach to how government and business can work together’.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s more about the continued endorsement of free market economics and the success of ‘flexible’ labour – the reason why industrial strategies were no longer considered necessary.  This is combined with a few proposals to bump up investment in ‘cutting edge’ industries which already do relatively well, in areas  already prosperous –  for example, the Oxford/Cambridge/Milton Keynes triangle.

While paying lip service to the importance of a few Northern ‘core cities’, the White Paper ignores  most of the areas  that are in terminal decline, because of historical neglect and lack of investment. It offers little to the millions of people in insecure and poorly paid employment at the lower end of the service sector.

In promising a ‘world class’ technical education, the White Paper is reaffirming existing commitments to introducing Tech-level qualifications as alternatives to A-levels – but these are as unlikely to be anymore successful than previous similar initiatives because they are not linked to an employment plan for young people.

May’s proposals are far removed from the approach of the economies they hopes to emulate – Germany and some of the Pacific Rim countries which have pursued much higher levels of state intervention and spent far greater sums of money (and in the case of Germany, enjoy much greater degrees of collaboration between state, employers and trade unions).

Labour’s alternative proposals for a National Investment Bank, increased borrowing for investment in manufacturing and nationalising parts of the infrastructure are much better, yet rather than pretending that after years of decline, industry can be restored; and then trying to copy the uncopiable,  surely time could be better spent developing  a POST-INDUSTRIAL strategy with at least some of the following objectives?

1)A much larger role for the state in running the economy – combined with decentralised regional strategies, accountable to local people. A planned introduction of automation.

2)Ditching fiscal orthodoxy – introducing the ‘People’s Quantitative Easing’, originally promoted by Labour, where new money is directed to socially useful projects rather than into the banking system.

3)Massive public expenditure on housing, social care and energy conservation.

4)Education for self-development and social responsibility, rather than just ‘skills’.

5)Ending dependency on low-paid service sector employment. Bringing in a Universal Basic Income in addition to existing benefits, not instead of them.

No budget for the young


With young voters flocking to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in the last General Election you’d think the Tories would have wanted to use this week’s budget as an opportunity to win back some lost ground. 

But, as one disaster follows another, May and Hammond are just as desperate to shore up their existing support and so, unless you are London based, in a ‘career’ job and with parents able to stump up a large slice of a deposit (by itself, the change to stamp duty does nothing to improve a person’s ability to save) for a bargain £300 000 first-time buy,  there’s nothing that can  remotely help you refill the fridge, never mind pay off the overdraft.

The £350 increase in the level we now start paying income tax – worth about £70 a year, will certainly exempt a fair few from tax altogether, yet if full-time students in part-time jobs are excluded, only half of 18-24-year olds are in the labour market.

By comparison, there’s been a £1350 increase in the 40% income tax ceiling (it’s now £46,350). There’s no further moves on student tuition fees (May has previously announced an increase in the repayment threshold and Parliament voted down new fee increases) and no direct reference to the need to rescue apprenticeships.

While recent developments have shown that increasing spending on education and training won’t necessarily lead to better employment outcomes; some schools will welcome the increased financial incentives for increasing the number of students taking Maths beyond GCSE. But even here, the amount is modest (£600 a student) and many employer representatives now argue that it would be better to have a broader post-16 curriculum rather than the current specialist one.

Young people have been affected the most from the fall in living standards since the economic downturn and approaching a third are estimated to be living in poverty. Labour will want to put their interests at the top of its agenda.