Youth unemployment at record low: Are things getting better for young people at work?

New figures show that more young people are in work than ever before - but what type of work are they doing, how does it match up with their aspirations, and do inequalities still persist?

By Bethan John
November 9, 2018
Young person on laptop
More young people are in employment than ever before, but how satisfied are they?
 

Record numbers of young people are in employment, according to an ONS release this October . 9 out of 10 aged 16-24 are in employment, after a peak in 2012. Alok Sharma, Minister of State for Employment at the Department of Work and Pensions, said:

#Employment figures just out from @ONS - unemployment continues to be at a 43 year low, youth unemployment at a record low and halved since 2010 and #wages continue to outpace inflation for 7th month in a row. @Conservatives policies working and supporting people into work

— Alok Sharma (@AlokSharma_RDG) October 16, 2018
 
*The figure for 2018 is the median unemployment rate from January to July
 

Richard Rigby, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at youth charity the Prince's Trust, welcomed recent progress in reducing youth unemployment. However, he suggested efforts should be intensified to reduce structural youth unemployment which continues to exist in the UK.

"Furthermore, as the labour market continues to undergo substantial change, the Government and employers must keep a close eye on the quality of youth employment, and ensure young people feel they have a stake in the economy," he said.

 

So what type of work are young people doing?

Young people are more likely to be working in jobs that don't guarantee stable working hours. Over 1 in 3 (36%) people on zero-hours contracts (ZHCs) are aged 16 to 24. ZHCs are most common in the accommodation and food industry, a traditional source of work for young people, where 2 in 10 (22.6%) of people in employment are on a ZHC.

Yet 6 in 10 of this generation consider job security to be 'very important,' ranked more imporant than 'high earnings' or 'having time for family.'

 

In addition, young people’s perceptions of the job market and reality do not always match up.

 

Across the UK, 1 in 4 young people say they feel trapped in a cycle of jobs they don't want, with only 6 out of 10 (66.9%) aged 25-34 working in jobs that matched their education level in 2015.

The top job currently held by people aged 22-29 was a sale assistant or cashier, which were not listed as 'dream jobs' in the survey.

According to Tom Richmond, Senior Research Fellow at the Policy Exchange think-tank, even the training options for young people are in crisis. "Almost half of 'apprenticeships' aren’t actually genuine apprenticeships," he said.

Designed for young people who wish to combine practical training in a job with study, they are currently dominated by adults who wish to supplement their CV (e.g. 'Golf Course Manager,' 'Team Leader'), as well as by low-quality 'apprenticeships,' which include, for instance, working on a hotel reception desk, making coffee, or serving food in a restaurant.

 

Furthermore, the job market is still mired in social inequalities along ethnic, regional and gender lines.

Analyses showed that white people generally had higher initial median earnings than the other groups, and higher earnings throughout during their twenties compared with other ethnicities. For example, in 2016, a white man in London in his late twenties with a degree earned over £10,000 more than his black counterpart.

For young people aged 16 to 29 years, annual earnings were generally lower for women than men, whether they were degree- or school-educated, or had no qualifications.

A move to London will increase earnings by 20% , but the high cost of living means that many cannot afford to move to the capital without a support network already in place - which often comes in the shape of family, friends or contacts.

 

Not so bright for everyone?

 

Although the youth unemployment figures show signs of brighter prospects for British young people, a deeper dive shows a that they still face challeges in a job market plagued with instability, disappointment and inequality.

 

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