THE number of young people not in employment, education or training, ‘NEETs’, is an indicator of how well the economic and social policies and practices are working.
While it can easily sound trite, most people and organisations with a stake in our communities recognise that investing in the next generation is as critical to the wellbeing of the current society as it is for the future.
There are correlations between youth engagement in the broadest sense, including employment, training and education, and both economic progress and social harmony. High levels of NEETs are not just an indicator of economic exclusion, they also show potential fault-lines in building cohesive communities. Groups of ‘inactive’ young people are a demonstration of our potential to waste talent and kill off aspiration. Most of the young people are ambitious, enthusiastic and talented. A long period of not participating in education, training or working is one of the most effective ways of diminishing each of those traits.
So the high levels of NEETs in parts of our region and across the north of England reported last week, a few days before the 2011 ‘Jarrow March for Jobs’ reached London, ought to have amplified the alarm bells in the minds of policy-makers. Those alarm bells are likely to ring louder, however, when this week’s employment statistics are published.
It is the case that during the economic downturn and recession, and in the period since, young workers have suffered in the labour market. Young workers, with less experience and ‘time in’ were easier and cheaper for employers to sack and were dismissed in greater proportions than other workers. When employment opportunities do arise, those young, inexperienced workers find themselves competing with much more experienced workers, significantly diminishing their chances of securing employment.
These factors contributed to a significant rise in youth unemployment and long-term youth unemployment in 2009-10 and this obvious inequity in the labour market was part of the Labour Government’s motivation for introducing the Future Jobs Fund – a programme that helped thousands of young people into work, most of which had been excluded from employment for a significant period of time. Critics of the FJF argued this would just be cheap scheme labour and the young people would be straight out of work again once the funding stopped. In fact, a large proportion of those people who benefited from FJF moved into permanent, unsubsidised jobs; it was a success.
The inequity in leaving youth unemployment to simple market forces results in the kind of long-term unemployment and exclusion that blighted a generation the 1980s, a situation that in many ways the UK is still recovering from. Addressing this problem does need special attention. Investing extra resources for apprenticeships is welcome, but this is not going to affect large swathes of young people who aren’t apprenticeship ready and this week’s employment statistics clearly demonstrate urgent and specific action is needed now.
:: Kevin Rowan is regional secretary of the Northern TUC