How lovely it has been to spend the last few weeks celebrating the achievements of young people across the United Kingdom. For two magical weeks the country has largely united to pay tribute to their hard work, their humility and dedication, and we have lauded the investment and first rate coaching that has helped them produce our best ever haul of medals. I think we all secretly hoped the euphoria that had enveloped the nation would stick around a little longer, unfortunately the real world has had other ideas.
Bad economic news brought us back down to earth with a bump, with a sting in the tail for the generation that produced so many Olympic heroes, where the number of NEETs (not in education, employment or training) has increased by 100,000 since the General Election in 2010.
In my constituency, Tooting in South London, just under 20% of all those unemployed are between the age of 18 and 24. And that figure isn’t budging – in fact long-term unemployment within the group has increased by 300% in the last 12 months.
These are painful words to write. Painful because they remind me of my own youth, growing up in Tooting in the 1980s. I went to a local comprehensive secondary school, Ernest Bevin, and remember many of my friends struggling to get work or training in similar conditions. Lack of jobs, underinvestment in training and skills, no access to university – they all caused lasting damage to the career prospects of so many bright young things I grew up with. Now twenty years on another generation is experiencing exactly the same problem. The government has scrapped the Educational Maintenance Allowance, which encouraged young people to stay in further education beyond 16, scrapped the Future Jobs Fund, cut funding for Tooting Connexions, cut Further and Higher Education funding and increased tuition fees. And what’s the result of all of this? University admissions are falling, youth unemployment is at 1 million, and the double dip recession is strangling any hopes of a resurgent jobs market.
For those young people who picked up their GCSE or A level results over the last two weeks, or who graduated from university this summer, things may look bleak. They are even worse for those people who have been out of work for months or even years.
I believe in those young people – and I know many people who have struggled to get into work are just looking for one break – a helping hand to get them past the first hurdle.
In Tooting we’re trying to do our bit to help, with Tooting Works, a day long jobs, skills, training and enterprise event I am running at our local FE college. It’s a group effort, put together with the support of local residents and local and national organisations who are determined to avoid a repeat of the disastrous unemployment of the 1980s.
City recruitment consultants, local business, charities, education and training providers – all are coming together to provide a day of expert advice and inspiration to help provide attendees with the information and hard skills they need to market themselves in the most competitive employment environment most of us have ever lived through. There’ll be sessions on business start-ups from local enterprise groups and the Prince’s Trust, advice on interview technique from city recruitment firms, specialists sessions on using social media for looking for employment and much more. Local businesses will also be advertising vacancies, and hopefully taking advantage of the training and advice available to help their own employees improve their skills.
This generation is one of the best educated ever, they have skills, energy and resourcefulness that will benefit employers, but not everyone’s great at writing a CV or filling in a job application – Tooting Works will help to unleash that potential.
I can say that if just one person gets a job or is able to start a new career as a result of this jobs fair it will be a success – but it can be so much bigger than that. This is opening up our local economy and helping people make connections that they might not otherwise make, bringing businesses, trainers and potential works face to face so we can all really see what’s out there.
Frankly, communities cannot rely on the government to help these young people. They have the wrong priorities and are making the problem worse. Labour has always been on the side of working people and those who want to work but for whatever reason aren’t. Our values mean, I am sure, that Labour MPs will lead the way working with their community embracing the challenge of tackling its own employment problems.
Sadiq Khan is the Shadow Justice Secretary and the Labour MP for Tooting.
Tooting Works is a jobs fair and advisory workshop offering practical help and advice to jobseekers in Tooting and the surrounding area. If you want to register, you can do so here.