World Youth Skills Day: Fostering Learning, Earning and Progression

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July 15th has been established by the United Nations as World Youth Skills Day. Given that young people are disproportionately likely to be unemployed or to be working in precarious and poor quality jobs, the idea of Youth World Skills Day is to draw attention to how young people can be inspired to develop their skills and achieve their potential.

The acquisition of skills and the ability of young people to make informed choices about how to utilise and further develop their skills is of key importance for the life chances of individuals and for public policy at international, national and sub-national levels.

The first report of the Learning and Work Institute’s Youth Commission published in July 2018 emphasises that educational attainment is increasingly central to life chances but there are considerable inequalities in experience, with family background playing a particularly important role in the UK relative to many other countries. Although empirical evidence from analyses of the Labour Force Survey show that young people today participate in education for longer than previous cohorts and better educated when entering the labour market, the stagnation in earnings that has characterised the economy since 2008 means that earnings for young people have not grown in the same way that they did for former generations. The Youth Commission report also points to a reduction in job-to-job moves as exacerbating this trend. This suggests that learning is not necessarily being converted into earning power and progression in work.

With the advent of the financial crisis, young people suffered higher than average increases in unemployment in the UK. The number of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) rose also. At the start of 2008 13.4% of young people aged 16-24 were NEET and this proportion rose to 16.9% in 2011. By the end of 2017, the proportion had fallen to 11.2%. This helps to explain the advent of a plethora of initiatives – such as Talent Match and Movement to Work – to address unemployment and particularly to reduce the number of NEETs through employability interventions, skills development and work experience. The importance of skills development for securing employment is also explicit in the roll-out of the Youth Obligation, which means that young people seeking to claim Universal Credit and those finishing school must ‘earn or learn’.

Yet there remain concerns that some unemployed and economically inactive young people are unable to capitalise on their qualifications to progress into higher level education provisions or secure higher paying jobs. An insightful qualitative study by Sue Maguire focusing on young women in several localities across England highlights the importance of family support and one-to-one professional support in helping them to navigate employment entry and progression. Similarly, ESRC-funded research focusing on the experiences of young people transitioning from education to employment in the Midlands has reiterated the importance of family and social contacts, plus support from careers services in identifying and navigating pathways to work that enable them to capitalise on and further develop their skills. The key take away here is that ensuring that all young people have support and guidance to help them in making choices and raising awareness of education, employment and training opportunities is crucial.

This is a strong theme in the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Regional Skills Plan published in June 2018, which sets out a strategy for improving the focus and impact of careers education for young people, explicitly taking account of local challenges and circumstances and setting out an aspiration to become a centre of excellence for prototyping and testing approaches to career learning. Such a commitment to young people is particularly important in a region with a younger population than nationally and where World Youth Skills Day should have particular resonance.

By Anne Green, Professor of Regional Economic Development, City-REDI, University of Birmingham. 

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.

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