How do we get young people back to work?

29th August, 2012 12:34 pm

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.

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  • Mr Khan, how come NEETS first broke the 1 million barrier under Labour?  I am all for valid criticism of any party but hypocritical criticism is foolish.

  • Christo

    All sounds good but thre things.
    1. Not enough real jobs available
    2. Match between people’ skills & experience and jobs
    3. Can we/ should we still be aiming for full employment

    The answers are connected . We need to restructure our economy to one that rebuilds our nation in a sustainable in terms of longevity, durability and the environment.
    If we cannot realistically ensure meaningful work for all, what are the humane solutions? Job shares, more investment in leisure? It’s a big debate but we need to talk about all this. It is not business as usual after this recession in a decade or so.

  • The issue of unemployment and the lack of concern or meaningful policy to deal with it looks like having very serious consequences. See for more discussion.

  • ovaljason

    You’d think by now that this website would be flooded with glowing articles of how Hollande’s socialism is fixing France.

    Strangely I don’t recall reading any.

    (PS. UK top rate of income tax still higher than France.)

  • Youth unemployment was falling when left office and long-term youth unemployment fell during our time in office, just look at the claimant count which gives an accurate figure.

  • Solopauker

    ” This generation is one of the best educated ever”

    I beg leave to differ.

    • Serbitar

      As far as members of the political classes are concerned…

      I beg leave to agree.

  • John_Dore


    You should speak to the average person in the street and raise the points you make. You may just be a little taken aback with what people may say to you.

    • Serbitar

      Out of interest what do reckon an average person would say in respect to the points made in this article? 

  • Monkey_Bach

    I think David Cameron wants the young to work for nothing and deny them any hope of Housing Benefit in order to “encourage” them to do so. Eeek! Even Tarzan wouldn’t have done that to armies of unemployed under twenty-fives… Michael Heseltine I’m talking about when I say “Tarzan” there not my pal Cheeta’s vine-swinging mate John Clayton the eponymous Earl of Greystoke! Eeek!

  • DaveCitizen

    Sadiq, I have one suggestion that could help – adopt a policy requiring local authorities to allocate housing land to enable say an additional 25% housing in their area. Add that 50% of said land to be only available to ‘self builders’. 

    A massive oversupply of available building land would reduce land values, free up development, reduce rents and create local skilled work. In time it would therefore also give international economic competitiveness a huge boost.

    On the down side – it would also be viewed as damaging to established land and property owning interests. Blairites and Tories can turn away now. For most homeowners the gain of creating a more ‘skilled labour friendly’ economy and more affordable housing could be rationally argued as outweighing the short term problem of handling a hit on house prices in the short term. This would require guts and a will to make real change in working people’s interests. Is there the will for this? 

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      Is the allocation of land in the competence of local councils?  It will probably vary council by council across the country, but where I live the council owns very little land – certainly not enough to enable another 25% of the housing stock to be built.  Maybe another 1%, but not 25%.  Unless you mean by compulsory purchase?  In which case that is very different, and likely to spend a lot of time in the courts.

      I am also not convinced that the mathematics favours your argument.  Causing a crash in land and housing prices is likely to result in many more hundreds of thousands of people to end up in negative equity, so freezing the entire housing market.  Surely this is not what you intend?

      • DaveCitizen

         Hi Jaime – re allocation of land: I was referring to allocation within LA local plans. At present designated housing land is typically limited to some ‘essential’ requirement, thus a few lucky land owners cash in when the new plan is adopted and home owners and self builders pull their hair out.

        As for the mathematics, this is a somewhat fair point. However, the mess we’re in does not appear to offer an easy way out. If we want to shift our economy back to mass quality employment we must slash the cost to labour of housing and if we are to do this without creating a kind of neo-feudalism  that means either a period of rapid wage inflation or slashing land and property prices. At the end of the day, it may be better for most people to soften the blow of house price falls and negative equity only really matters if you have to sell because you can’t afford the mortgage anymore before it’s repaid. I accept this is not ideal but then tell me the solution that is (without relying on some fanciful return to sustained and rapid economic growth while magically maintaining living standards).

  • Mr Arthur Cook

    My real concern with this post is not with the detail of particular issues in a particular area of London but with the historical context which Labour must address if it is to regain the trust of those it was created to serve and foolishly neglected. For too many years the doorstep of number 10 was more likely to be crossed by celebrities for a photo opportunity rather than trades union leaders working with government to forge an economy based on wealth generated by industry rather than illusory “city money”.

    Let us remember that it was “New” Labour who set the ball rolling with tuition fees and academies.
    Labour now has two paths.
    It may sit and throw stones from the sidelines waiting for the Tories to loose and take power by default and achieve a hollow and probably temporary victory.
    Or it can deploy what the post calls ”
     Our values ” to fashion a policy set which recognises  the blind alley into which we were led and remodel Labour as a party likely to be elected and more importantly one fit to govern.

  • AlanGiles

    At least Mr. Khan is doing something practical, and unlike so many politicians and members of the public – including sadly, Labour ones, are not castigating those out of work as workshy or “feckless” .

    Christo is quite right in what he says further down the page: we are hardly unlikely ever to have full employment again, and in my view we should not demonize those unable to find work: I would add that this does not just affect school leavers, but older people, too. There is still covert ageism in the workplace, and I feel very sorry for the over 50s who try to find work, are unable to do so, then get accusing fingers pointed at them by out of touch people inside and outside Westminster.

  • Redshift1

    youth unemployment broke the 1 million figure under this government not the last one….

  • Redshift1

    The main problem here is lack of jobs, that has only been exasperated for young people because of the scrapping of EMA and the tuition fee hike which has meant more entering the jobs market all at once. It is a totally intentional Tory policy to create a larger pool of labour, in order to force down labour costs. Unfortunately, our economic problem is primarily the result of a lack of consumer demand (rather than labour costs being too high) so this is actually making things worse.

    We need to basically sit down with industry and the unions and come to a decision about where the government invests strategically to create new jobs and build a new economy, not so reliant on financial services. 

    There are problems with our education system but listening to people educated in the 1950s (I’m guessing Bill Lockhart for example) is about the worst idea possible since they have no idea what the problems in our education system actually are, and just regurgitate the rubbish they’ve read in the Mail and Express that week.

    GCSEs in themselves are relatively well-taught. The problem lies with those who struggle with academic subjects, and get left behind (unfortunately sometimes intentionally by their school because it affects their league table scores). This has contributed significantly to the underlying growth in youth unemployment we had before the financial crash. People who were never going to fit into ‘the knowledge economy’. We need more options for students to go into vocational education, so they can get good at something rather than just written off as destined for a couple of E grades and nothing more. To address this we need to look at the jobs we can produce for people who do this simultaneously. The danger in schools is that after all the investment under the Labour governments, we’ll have to rebuild and fix leaking roofs all over again. 

    A-levels are different. They are a farcical exercise that prioritises getting good marks in a few isolated tests than developing genuine knowledge and understanding. Lessons can often consist of ‘if you get asked X, then you need to use the phrase Y to get full marks’. The reason the marks kept getting better isn’t because they were easier per se, but because teachers became increasingly accustomed to this way of working and getting the best results. Universities complained of grade inflation because it became difficult to distinguish candidates. My answer to that is ‘no shit’ – the marking is so rigid that the answers are simply become a splurge of repeated unconscious thought (a memory test) rather than pupils demonstrating their understanding. First year Uni gets dumbed down to compensate for people’s lack of actual understanding. Like GCSEs, there would be no harm at all in increasing the vocational education at this level into technical fields. Where are our engineers? We need to look at developing them earlier.
    Higher education is always a bit different but my main concern is that we are going to put off talented pupils from poorer backgrounds because of the fee levels. £9k a year is an insane sum whether you pay it up front or not. Labour must commit to bringing it down. I’d love it to be free, but I accept that might not be possible in one parliament. Reducing it should be an immediate priority however – this will require an increase in higher education funding however.  

  • AlanGiles

     I would have been interested in a reply to your question, Serbitar

    • Serbitar

      It may be that Mr. Dore is too far above (or below) average to be able to speak on behalf of the “ordinary” man or woman on the street, although he implies in his comment that he is acquainted with their views,  in which case it might be best if in future this gentleman spoke only on behalf of himself and not on behalf of others without their explicit permission.   

    • John_Dore

      I’m very interested in what you say, but only from the perspective of amusement.

      • AlanGiles

        Something like I feel about your posts. A man who thinks ignorance is wit, are’nt you Mr Dore?. You really do think you are funny, so much so you are not afraid to make a laughing stock of yourself. But I am afraid you are no Oscar Wilde, or even a cheap Ben Elton.

  • rekrab

    It’s right and proper to compare today’s unemployment with those of the 1980’s and without doubt one of the most unsettling things about unemployment is “false hope” short term jobs are a cancerous infection, please don’t offer “false hope”.

  • John_Dore

    I think they would say…….

    I hate politicians you are all the same, just different cheeks of the same……You bend statistics, talk in tongues and how can we work out who is really for us? This is of course tantamount to being a lying schemer. Remember Clegg’s promises? Brown’s Economic record. The disastrous coalition?No government has set out an economic agenda for the country, why should we listen to you? Until a group of politicians deliver you are all vacuous windbags.

    That’s what I think you’ll hear, its what I hear in the Pub.

  • John_Dore

    As an employer and at the sharp end of bringing in talent I can assure you that the University system is broken, seriously broken. The dumbing down and degrees for all does not work. We have a huge intern program, taking placement year students. Our MD takes education very seriously and we put them through the mill when it comes to interviewing. The trouble is you never know how good they are until they are in the chair. They get paid very well and yet 25% of them do not have the ability their academic qualifications suggest they might have. 

    We are exasperated but determined to continue with the program.

    • rekrab

      Topping up your coffee cup with extra cream only improves the taste of your own selective choice. I’d say a placement would need a bedding in period, a periodic time movement that allows perpetual progress.Simply tarring all with one brush stroke is a worrying aspect for future employment. 

  • John_Dore

    I’d also like to pick you up on A-levels. They were a superb test and yet they have been seriously messed with. I did A-levels in the dark ages and we were taught how to do exams. They have been dumbed down, you can re take modules to improve your results.

    When Blair said education education education, he was right, sadly his strategy was so warped we’re in the mess we’re in now. Kids who can barely add up saddling themselves with huge debts and not finding jobs. Vocational training is more suitable for the majority and gives us a broad skills base.

    • rekrab

      Here I think you do make some pertinent points however as an employer you do seem to have the monkey finger (blame everyone else) Could I suggest that employers should be working more closely with universities rather than sticking a finger up then behinds when things don’t go their way.

  • John_Dore

    What are you on about, this isn’t some tin pot joke. We pay them 18k p/a and its a 12 month stint. Its about investing in the kids. There is no bedding in period, if they’re not good we don’t just kick them out we try to develop them.

    Have you been listening to the green voting windbags who have never been involved in creating employment but know everything about it?

    • rekrab

      Doesn’t tin/pot suggest a killing field? a developing programme is of course par.Level playing fields and stroking evenly is something I can relate to.I was picking up on your 25% quote of under achievers and think it was an off the cuff remark, relating their qualifications to the job in hand, developing the skills is a partnership and one that often remains grey between the employer and the universities, if you want a more finished knot in the tie, link up with the universities and offer some information on the skills that suit best.

      • John_Dore

        ” if you want a more finished knot in the tie, link up with the universities and offer some information on the skills that suit best.”

        Thanks for dem derr eggs, I’ll make sure we suck’em good and hard.

        • rekrab

          Ain’t trying to rain in on your Easter parade, dem clucking chicks needs some better nourishment.

    • AlanGiles

       I am sympathetic to the Greens,and I was also responsible for employing many young people, so if that is another of your ill-natured jokes, I am happy to say – unlike you – I was never saddled with four workers (as you once told us) who were duds. Then again, good management is the key to efficient employees, don’t you agree?

      How many are we talking about now?

      The branch of engineering I was involved in didn’t attract graduates, nor did we need degrees – just commonsense, a practical mind and a willingness to learn (good manners didn’t come amiss either, so I doubt you ever crossed my path whatever your name really is).

      The great thing about lads who have a comprehensive school education, is that they don’t have airs and graces and don’t mind getting their hands dirty. You don’t need to have gone to  a university to be a good, dedicated and reliable worker.

      • rekrab

        Well said @Alan and I’m sure over a million  youths would support those words.


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