Helping young people face the oncoming economic crisis

The latest unemployment figures show young people face a particularly difficult uphill battle when it comes to work. They will need all the support we can give them.



As Lower Sixth classes go back this week, it’s time for students – with the help of their parents – to consider what they might do after they leave school. Their whole world has turned upside down within the space of a few months.

The summer term is usually full of UCAS talks, sessions on writing the personal statement for a university or college application, workshops on apprenticeships and all sorts. Some of these have been done virtually and there are certainly a lot of virtual summer schools and workshops going on. My daughter gets a list on email every week titled “Opportunities”. The trouble is she rarely checks her email – and so missed the virtual UCAS day – and has no idea what she actually wants to do so endless lists of links just overwhelms her rather than helping.

Motivation is the problem. Without the social context of friends, teachers and peers and after months of sitting on your own reading and writing with no-one you can bounce ideas off, motivation is at rock bottom. We’re all struggling with it, but the teenage years are a very social time and enforced isolation is particularly hard.

The temptation is to let things drift until school properly reopens, although the short sessions on offer until July are better than nothing. Who knows what the next year will bring and how school and after school will adapt? However, there are some things we do know. The recession will be awful. Young people will be badly hit. Jobs will be hard to come by. All the more reason to wait it out in college or university. My daughter is worried about debt, but my concern is more for her immediate future, not the long term.

Unemployment figures out yesterday show unemployment has risen by 1.6 million since March to 2.8 million. This compares to the whole year after the 1929 Wall Street Crash where it rose by one million. Before the crisis began, there were 1.5 claimants for every vacancy.  The Institute for Employment Studies estimates that that figure has now increased to 8.5 claimants per vacancy, with the furlough scheme still in operation. Some regions are particularly badly hit and the short-term outlook looks very troubling.

Figures out from jobs site Adzuna this week show graduate job openings have fallen by 77% since the beginning of the year, from nearly 15,000 to just over 3,000. For non-graduates, the prospects are even bleaker. A study by the Resolution Foundation think-tank found that 1.5m, or 41%, of employed 16 to 24-year-olds worked in sectors hit particularly hard by the lockdown. This compares to only 22% of 25 to 34-year-olds work in those sectors and 18% of 35 to 64-year-olds.

Experts say that the true scale of the damage inflicted on young people by the COVID-19 downturn will be felt next year, rather than in 2020.  Then there’s the longer term prospect of further disruption due to automation, climate change and so forth.

It’s terrifying for parents, let alone for young people. What we need is some sort of galvanising vision of how to get through these next years. In the absence of that, young people will have to create it for themselves and we, as their parents, will need to support them in any way possible.

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