While private education thrives, youth unemployment may turn state schools into glorified job centres

Maxine Harrison
·5-min read
Youth employment is a growing issue (Getty Images)
Youth employment is a growing issue (Getty Images)

In a deeply-worrying statistic, the number of 18-24 year olds claiming unemployment-related benefits increased by nearly 125 per cent between March and September this year.

Covid-19 has severely affected the job market and the traditional career trajectory, leaving many young people, who otherwise would have sought regular 9-5 jobs, for example, to forcibly consider other, more precarious employment, such as gig work.

According to a survey carried out by HOPE not hate, among 16-24-year-olds, more than half within the age group felt that “the pandemic has stolen their future”. And who can blame them when they are surrounded by news of redundancies reaching record highs and employers being less likely to take on full-time or even part-time employees due to financial uncertainty?

It almost feels like the typical career trajectory taught in schools has dramatically morphed into something unrecognisable.

Many students have now graduated with minimal, or in some cases, no experience in their desired career path and are battling to find jobs, internships and even work experience to add to their portfolios. Plus, the opportunities that are vacant are now highly competitive.

As a London School of Economics survey revealed this week, six in 10 members of “Generation Covid” “have seen their earnings fall” as a result of the pandemic. A BBC Panorama investigation also found that people between the ages of 16-25 “were more than twice as likely as older workers to have lost their job”.

This, compounded with the fact that 74 per cent of “private school pupils had full days of teaching” compared to 38 per cent of state school pupils, sheds a gruesome light on the widening inequality not just based on age, but class and family income too.

State-educated kids experiencing reduced learning hours compared to their private-educated counterparts automatically puts them at a disadvantage that could impact them later in life, especially where job prospects are concerned. It could even lead to state schools having to pivot to more career-focused lessons to prepare students to enter the workforce at even earlier ages than usual.

And with there already being an unfair divide between schools in learning hours, the issue of a wider class divide with certain jobs may seep through to classrooms too, as opposed to encouraging students to work towards whatever career path they desire.

Sadly, with that possibility in mind, I believe there is a way to prepare the least advantaged pupils and students for what will likely be an entirely new world of work. It's important for young people to know that there are several career paths that may allow them more autonomy.

Freelancing, for example, is an industry that, even before the pandemic, has increased in popular demand in recent years. Freelancers currently contribute approximately £125bn to the UK economy.

In a bid to provide solutions to youth unemployment, Youth Employment Group (YEG) have partnered with Princes Trust, among others and produced a report recommending ways to secure a place for young people in the nation’s economic recovery. Self-employment and entrepreneurial education are two suggestions on this list. The report also notes that the lack of provision of this type of education can actually act as a barrier to their potential success.

In this digital age, new job titles are frequently being created, such as influencing, for example. Perhaps schools should include these blooming industries in their syllabuses? I attended a business and enterprise specialist secondary school and massively benefited from the speed networking sessions they regularly hosted with giants in a range of industries, like Charlene White. I was also allocated a mentor, who was also a writer. I can see how giving young people similar tools could benefit students, especially at a time like this, where many feel robbed of hope.

While I didn’t graduate in the wake of the pandemic, I did struggle to land a full-time or even part-time job in writing after graduating from university and completing a one-year media internship in 2018. Despite having some experience writing for publications during university and writing on my personal blog prior to that, I still had trouble.

On one of my job-hunting quests, I joined a Facebook group for creatives and saw a member post a freelance role that was everything I was looking for at the time. I applied and it ended up allowing me to become a full-time freelancer.

Two years later, and I’m still at it. It may not be for everyone, but I love the flexible work/life balance freelancing offers and the ability to choose who and what I want to work on and with. My passion for the freelance lifestyle led me, in lockdown, to create a Beginner Freelancer E-course on my blog, sharing what I’ve learnt and helping creatives who are strongly considering or have just started freelancing.

However, while gig work and self-employment do have their benefits, it’s not a path that everyone wants to embark on and not all industries are as simple to enter as a self-employed person.

It’s understandable why many feel a loss of hope. To be in this unprecedented situation where there are limited opportunities for young people to earn while jumping on the career ladder is a difficult prospect for anyone.

The current class inequality among students in terms of learning hours is one battle. Employment is now undoubtedly another huge issue. In order to provide all students, regardless of their class, with equal opportunities, these problems need to be addressed sooner rather than later. With the way things are going under this government, I sincerely hope that happens.

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