It’s becoming ever-clearer that the current recession hits millennials and Generation Z the hardest: Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said himself that young people are “most at risk of becoming unemployed.”
A September report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that the number of 16 to 24-year-olds in employment fell by 156,000 between May and July. The report ascribes this dramatic rise in unemployment among young people to their tendency to work in sectors worst-affected by the pandemic, like hospitality and the arts. In addition to this, new figures released today by the ONS show that UK redundancies reached a record high of 314,000 in the three months leading up to September.
So, what exactly do unemployed young people face when they fire up job search sites every morning? Throughout the month of October, VICE News monitored every entry-level job in Leeds uploaded to the recruitment website Reed, using its “suitable for graduates” filter and recording every new listing daily. Listings that required applicants to pay a fee to complete a training course were not counted. Listings that came up under the “suitable for graduates” filter but were evidently more senior roles (e.g. requiring over five years of experience) were also not counted.
While official figures about youth unemployment are undeniably bleak, our findings are a sobering illustration of just how bad the reality is for today’s jobless youth.
Overall, 293 entry-level jobs within a ten-mile radius of Leeds were uploaded to Reed in the month of October, which works out at a measly average of nine new opportunities a day. Nine percent of these jobs were part-time, while 27 percent were for temporary or contract roles.
A whopping 25 percent of these Leeds-based graduate jobs were in the education sector, with 12 percent in care and 8 percent in recruitment respectively. BBC, ITV and Channel 4 all have offices in Leeds, but only one graduate job in the media industry was listed last month. And despite Leeds being home to Leeds Arts University, the Northern Film School and Leeds College of Music, there were no arts opportunities suitable for graduates listed on Reed during the month of October.
According to graduatejobs.com, the average graduate salary in 2020 is £24,546. Of the jobs recorded by VICE News, only 27 percent paid at this level or higher. Thirty percent unhelpfully listed the salary as “competitive”, “negotiable” or “unspecified”, while 16 percent paid under £9 an hour. Only 34 percent of jobs explicitly offered clear career progression within the company.
For a city that retained a solid 39 percent of its graduates last year – placing Leeds as the fifth best city in the UK for graduate retention – these findings are particularly disappointing.
The results of the VICE News investigation mean it’s no surprise that 13,151 people aged 16 to 24 in Leeds were on Universal Credit as of the 13th of August. In the constituency of Leeds East in particular, 16.7 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds were claiming work-related benefits in June 2020, making the area one of the worst-affected in the country.
VICE News only recorded jobs data for Leeds, but the findings are microcosmic of an issue affecting every young person in the UK. Nationally, the number of 18 to 24-year-olds claiming Universal Credit also doubled between May and July. The scale of the crisis suggests that unemployment levels may be heading towards levels not seen since the 2009 recession.
So, what is the government doing to help? Sunak announced the launch of the “Kickstart” scheme in September which pays employers £1,500 for every 16 to 24-year-old they train. Successful applicants will be offered six-month work placements to help them gain experience and skills. Sunak said it was an "opportunity to kickstart the careers of thousands of young people who could otherwise be left behind as a result of the pandemic."
But youth unemployment isn’t an issue affecting “thousands” – it’s affecting hundreds of thousands. Some businesses have also warned that Kickstart isn’t going to do enough in the long-term. Kirstie Donnelly, chief executive of the City and Guilds skills organisation, has gone as far as condemning the scheme as “a tokenistic, sticking plaster solution, that burns up significant resources that might be better utilised.” Meanwhile, the government’s National Careers website unhelpfully suggests that people who have lost jobs during the pandemic simply retrain as “horse groomers” or pivot to working “in cyber.”
It’s hard to say when employment will improve for young people. Almost certainly not until the pandemic is truly over and a vaccine is widely available. Some experts suggest that it will be as long as three or four years before things fully return to normality. Although Sunak has extended the furlough scheme, it’s clear this isn’t enough – and it’s too little, too late for those who were let go by their employers last month.
Impetus is a youth organisation focused on the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak on the employment prospects of young people. Speaking to VICE News about our findings, Sam Windett, director of policy at Impetus, explained what options are available to struggling young people at the moment.
“Young people’s jobs are being hardest hit in this pandemic – in Leeds, the number of young people claiming benefits has more than doubled,” she said. “With new restrictions coming in, the impact on young people’s job prospects is a major cause for concern.”
“Impetus is calling on the government to create 1,000 extra employment, training and education opportunities each day for young people in the UK,” she continued. “Local communities, employers, educators and charities need to step up to identify new jobs and placements for young people, and support those from disadvantaged backgrounds who need them the most.”
Ultimately, until we live under a system that acknowledges that unemployment is a societal failing rather than an individual failing, the issue of youth unemployment – and widespread unemployment more generally – looks set to remain.