ENSURING YOUNG PEOPLE ARE NOT LEFT BEHIND DURING THE NEXT RECESSION
During the last global recession of 2009, the group of individuals most affected by the labour market conditions at the time were people aged between 16 and 24, with youth unemployment in the UK going above one million during that crisis.
It was a pattern repeated in almost every nation in the world and whilst the global economy recovered, it would seem that young people, as a group, remain a vulnerable part of the jobs market.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 13.6% of all young people (267 million) were not employed or engaged in education (or classified as NEETs) at the end of 2019, a far higher figure than experienced before the last financial crisis over a decade ago.
The ILO has also estimated that more than one in six of those young people working prior to the Covid-19 outbreak are no longer in jobs and those employed have had a 23% reduction in their working time.
Within the UK, data suggests that there is still a significant group of young people who are classified as NEETs. For example, the labour economists David Blanchflower and David Bell showed that not only were there 699,000 NEETs aged 16 to 24 at the end of last year (or 12.7% of the age group), their numbers had not declined at the same pace that overall employment had increased since 2012.
It also seems that the weak labour market position of young people within the workforce prior to the Covid-19 crisis will not certainly not get better during the next few months. Indeed, 141,640 young people started claims for unemployment benefit last month with research from the Resolution Foundation also demonstrating that under-25s have been hardest hit by the Covid-19 economic fallout i.e. 23% being furloughed, 9% losing their jobs and 35% being most likely to have their pay cut.
This is not surprising as research has shown that employees aged under 25 were about two and a half times more likely than other age groups to work in a sector that is now shut down i.e. sectors such as retail, hospitality and leisure.
At the same time that young people already within the jobs market are being disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the timing of the lockdown means that, at the same time, hundreds of thousands of pupils, students and graduates will be leaving their schools, colleges and universities looking to enter the labour market.
The problem is that employers are not going to have the jobs to offer them in the near future. According to a study in March by the Institute of Student Employers, 27% stated that at the time that they would be recruiting less graduates in the near future. In addition, the imminent recession may well, as suggested by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, result not only in graduates finding it less difficult to find work but under such circumstances, having to settle for lower paid non-graduate level occupations.
Therefore, despite the hopes of a V-shaped recovery from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, those aged between 16 and 24 are likely to suffer the longer term effects of any recession more than any other group. If we accept that as being the case as many economic forecasters believe, then rather than being a threat, this could be an opportunity for real change in the economy.
Given this, how do we provide the right framework of financial support for young people to train for the industries of the future within our further and higher education institutions? How do we provide work opportunities, potentially through enhancing existing schemes such as Jobs Growth Wales, to encourage employers to take on those young people who want to start their careers?
How do we provide the incentives for those young people who have the ideas for new businesses but have no support for taking the next step into entrepreneurship? And for those who do not want to step immediately into working, training or enterprise, how we boost the capacity of brilliant organisations such as the Prince’s Trust to support young people at this valuable time, especially through enabling them to volunteer across the country.
Forewarned is forearmed and we know that in previous recessions, young people have suffered greater problems than any other age group both during and after the event. I am sure that the last thing that both the UK and Welsh Governments want to see is a “Covid generation’ that fails to fulfil its amazing potential at a time when the economy needs their creativity, talent and drive.
We cannot afford, for the sake of the economy, society and the young people themselves, to allow them to be left behind and it is paramount over the next few months as businesses slowly open that the priority of policymakers and politicians is focused completely on supporting their future.