Youth unemployment too high

Youth unemployment is still far too high. Youth ‘underemployment’ even higher.

by Martin Allen

Even if youth unemployment is now reported to be falling, it continues to be almost three times the rate of unemployment as a whole and still higher than pre-recession levels. In addition approaching 30% of the young unemployed have been out of work for a year.

Young people are better educated than ever before with staying on rates having increased so dramatically, that new government legislation making continuation in education or training mandatory for 17 year olds and now 18 year olds, has passed by largely unnoticed. Meanwhile success rates for GCSEs and A-levels have risen to levels once considered impossible. If this is the case, why are young people losing out in the labour market?

Many of the causes of youth unemployment are ‘structural’ –the result of a decline in the types of jobs that school leavers used to do, particularly in manufacturing. Apprenticeships have been reinvented but there have only been enough for a small minority of young people and many of these have been short-term and low-skilled. As a result many feel they have no option but to stay on at school and also to pay the exorbitant fees required to complete a university education.

But the number of new graduates now far exceeds the number of new job opportunities resulting in high levels of ‘underemployment’ where up to a third of new graduates end up in jobs they are overqualified for and bump those that hoped to get these further down the jobs queue (Allen and Ainley 2013[1]). In otherwords, education is becoming like running up a downwards escalator, where you have to run faster and faster, just to stand still. Meanwhile according to recent UKCES surveys, rather than skill shortages, up to 40% of employees are not really using the qualifications they have worked hard to obtain.

While education should not just be about becoming qualified for work, it will always be the case that if young people are going to be properly motivated to continue in education, they must have confidence that it will improve their employment opportunities. Therefore in addition to fighting for improvements in the curriculum, for higher levels of spending and for the reinstallation of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), as a trade union committed to wider issues of social justice, the NUT continues to campaign for the interests of young people after they leave the classroom.

This means not only opposing austerity policies, but also getting involved in debates about the types of longer term economic policies needed to ensure young people’s   employment prospects are improved and they are able to use the qualifications they have worked so hard for.


[1] For an account of the increasing mismatch between the education levels of young people and employment opportunities, see Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley’s The Great Reversal, young people, education and employment in a declining economy downloadable at


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