Let’s invest in the skills of our young workers

Young workers today are growing up in a unique environment. Economic shifts – brought on both by rapidly developing technology, globalisation and the looming threat of climate change – mean that the world of work they’ll enter will be basically unrecognisable from the one they were born into.

In many ways, that is a fantastic thing. New inventions have enriched our lives in countless ways. Think about how an eighteen-year-old entering the world of work today was born when smartphones hadn’t even been invented.

“It’s time for a real, concerted effort to end the skills deficit.”

Yet these rapid economic changes have caused a huge skills deficit in our young people. Many of them will have skills that are now obsolete, or don’t fit the economic needs of the day and the future. This deficit will only increase as the type of jobs that make up our economy change as we move towards net-zero.

The pandemic has hit young people the hardest, exacerbating this skills crisis. A report from the Resolution Foundation showed that 23% of employees aged 18-24 years old being furloughed and a further 9% losing their jobs. The International Labour Organisation estimated that more than one in six young people have now stopped working due to the pandemic.

One month after the U.K. went into lockdown, the number of 18-24 years old claiming unemployment related benefits increased by 59% compared with the previous month, while the number of apprenticeships offered by employers fell 80% of pre-virus expectations.

Education and training opportunities for young people have interrupted, creating long-term implications for the post-pandemic recovery.

Even before the pandemic, young people faced a growing mismatch between the skills they were learning in school and those needed for employment. Research by the Good Things Foundation, for example, estimates there are 300,000 young people who do not have basic digital skills. The research also demonstrates that there is a strong correlation between social exclusion and lack of digital skills for young people; a link commonly seen throughout digital exclusion.

Within 20 years, 90% of all jobs will require digital skills to some degree. It is crucial that we prepare young people for work, enable young workers to thrive in work and be ambitious about the digital skills of our workforce.

So what can we do about this? How can we end this skills crisis for young people, before it gets even worse?

It’s time for a real, concerted effort to end the skills deficit. There is no magic bullet solution to this, but a joint partnership between employers, government and young people.

We need government to step up and provide increased funding for a nationwide programme to ensure that digital skills training is targeted at those who most need it.

We also need every employer to take action now to mitigate against a ‘lost generation’ as a result of the pandemic. Whether that’s protecting jobs for young people within their organisation using Equality Impact Assessments across all demographic groups, or by inspiring the next generation of talent – removing barriers and actively hiring young people.

Ensuring that young people have good jobs with development and progression opportunities will be pivotal in ending the skills deficit and setting them up for the world of work.

For World Youth Skills Day this year, we need to see employers commit to supporting young people in their training, learning and development, and we need a government that works to ensure young people have the necessary skills for the economy now, and skills ready for the future.

If you are a member of Community and need help or advice, please contact us at help@community-tu.org or on 0800 389 6332.

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