It’s fair to say it’s a tough time to be a young person right now and, if you’re a young Northerner leaving school or graduating University this summer, your chances of finding employment are significantly reduced as low business confidence leads many employers to maintain a ‘hiring freeze’
Business confidence is a precious thing in today’s febrile economic circumstances. The decision to hire staff will be based on a range of factors in any given firm, but with the perception of so little demand in an economy paralysed by deep public sector spending cuts, a European financial crisis and a sustained focus on all things London, it is easy to see why northern employers are currently sitting on their hands.
This lack of confidence and hiring, coupled with a new wave of young people looking for work this summer, is likely to lead to a big jump in the numbers of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs). IPPR North’s quarterly Northern Economic Summary shows that the numbers of NEETs is highest in the North of England at 19 per cent, compared to an England average of 16 per cent. There is a fear that, unless targeted measures to help young people are introduced as a matter of urgency, the gap between the North and other regions in the numbers of NEETs will continue to grow.
Worryingly, we are also seeing the amount of time people spend on Job Seekers Allowance increasing. Almost half (47%) of those claiming JSA in the North have been doing so for over 6 months with the average length of time that people are claiming benefits more than double what it was during the 2008/9 recession.
This is a real concern as research from the Prince’s Trust shows young people who are NEETs are almost twice as likely as other young people to lack a sense of belonging in life. More than a third of NEETs (37 per cent) lack a sense of identity, and this figure rises to nearly half (47 per cent) for those out of work year or longer. More than a third of unemployed young people (34 per cent) feel isolated all or most of the time, increasing to 45 per cent for those who have been out of work for a year or longer.
So what is the government doing about it? The new "Youth Contact" is a plan for 160,000 job subsidies and an extra 20,000 apprenticeships but it has yet to have an impact. On its own, it is clearly not enough and will likely be insufficient to absorb the extra young workers entering the labour market.
There needs to be a joint effort to prevent a big spike in NEETs numbers. Schools need to encourage their students to stay on where they can, colleges need to make extra efforts to recruit next year’s intake, public sector employers need to promote work experience schemes, but above all, employers need to take on apprentices through the various schemes now available. To really trigger a ‘summer hiring spree’ in the North the government need to send a clear signal that the North of England is not a ‘problem to solve’ but a vital part of a national economy that offers the potential to be the driver of the nation’s return to economic health.