Three ways for Labour to approach youth unemployment

7:10 pm - February 2nd 2013

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by Alvin Carpio

Last week Ed Miliband outlined his plan to tackle youth unemployment.

First, firms who get big government contracts must take on apprentices. Second, government departments would hire and train apprentices to work in its offices.

Finally, he said that he would broaden the education system to meet the needs of those who do not go to university and go straight into the labour market.

These proposals should be welcomed. But as Labour flesh out our policies for the next general election, I think we could do even more.

1. Job creation
We need to create jobs for young people by investing in infrastructure projects. Last month the Fabian Conference voted building 1 million new homes their policy priority. It was also proposed that we could renovate and build new schools. This investment in infrastructure strategy could put a clear dividing line between us and the coalition government’s austerity policies. But would it be wise to put forward big spending projects at this time of recession? Let’s look at a couple of examples to see why it is.

The Olympics led to a 60,000 drop of those claiming JSA 6 months. Short-term, it created thousands of temporary jobs for young people. Long-term, winning the Olympic bid in 2005 made sure Westfield built their mall in Stratford which has led to hundreds of permanent jobs for young people. The success of Westfield has led to proposals for another mall in Croydon. If the Stratford model is followed, this is sure to create more job opportunities for young people and spur regeneration in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

The headline of Ed’s speech was the idea that HS2 should create 33,000 apprentices. That’s one apprentice for every £1m spent on the project. Apprentices aged 16-18 cost £7,000 each which works out to be less than 1% of the total expenditure. The other big rail investment, Crossrail will deliver one apprentice per £3m spend. That works out to be 400 apprenticeships. If Labour were in power, this number would triple.

2. Decent jobs
The jobs we create need to be decent jobs. Some young people who work are still in poverty, and many feel undervalued and helpless as inexperienced new entrants.
What are decent jobs? For one thing, the jobs must have a sense of purpose. In my conversations with young people for my research on youth unemployment at the LSE, they often feel like they’re in dead-end jobs.

If they get another job, they often do not experience any progress. Temporary contracts have become more prominent and those who are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance are often in between temporary contracts. We’ve got to make sure that every job is a stepping stone and not a dead end. We have to work with businesses to make sure that young people are given career progression plan.
Young people should also be paid a fair wage. Westfield paid all their young employees a living wage, and we have seen the case made by writers from the Right and Left.

3. Education
Education should provide opportunities for all once they enter the labour market. As Ed Miliband points out, we need a clear route for the 50% who do not go to university.
Yesterday I visited City Gateway, a publicly-funded charity that trains young people and convinces businesses to take them on as apprentices. In the last month they have already created 100 new apprenticeships.

Why does City Gateway work? They train young people in vocational courses, but also focus on the very basic skills we often take for granted. They teach young people how to get to work on time, office etiquette, how to speak with colleagues. These soft skills aren’t taught in our schools, and it’s something we should consider adding to the curriculum as it has helped young people become job ready. City Gateway employee Sarah Webster says these skills are what employers say they want.

We also need to make apprentices respectable. What we measure defines what we deem important. That’s why Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna’s idea of having a league table measuring how many apprenticeships each school produces should be welcomed. There are thousands of students who are highly qualified but are doing jobs that they could have done without it. Making vocational courses attractive is one way of giving young people another option to deal with underemployment and could point them to industries of growth.

@AlvinCarpio is currently researching the effects of the Olympics on youth unemployment in Newham. He is also a board member of the @UpRisingYF Leadership Programme.

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Reader comments

Great article. I’m all for the idea on tackling youth unemployment.

But thinking in terms of longevity. It’s all great having jobs in the short run. It’s great having 16-18 year old apprentices. But does that guarantee their transition into long term employment once apprentership programmes are finished?

My suggestions would be:

1. Get rid of Liam Byrne.

2. Sack Liam Byrne.

3. Fire Liam Byrne.

These three things would give everybody out of work or claiming benefits a better chance at a better life.

3. Chaise Guevara

@ 1 Pacs Fofe

“It’s great having 16-18 year old apprentices. But does that guarantee their transition into long term employment once apprentership programmes are finished?”

No, but nothing guarantees a future job, short of some kind of government scheme where anyone who wants busywork can have it. Education doesn’t guarantee a future long-term job either.

If Labour doesn’t promise full employment at the next election and explain how to get it then young people should shun it completely. With the welfare state destroyed not having a job is a matter of life and death.

Costly job creation schemes will simply confirm the nation’s bankruptcy so what is needed is first of all the sharing of the already available productive work. The unemployed must be bought into the workplace and paid the minimum of a trade union living wage. Either that or these forces will be used to smash the organised working class. From this platform we can talk about greening our infrastructure and other necessary social investment in accordance with a democratic plan.

Let’s face it, the reason we are in a financial mess, i.e. irrevocably bankrupt, is because the benefits of increased productivity accrue to a tiny elite in the form of job cuts and mass unemployment which can be hidden or ignored in times of growth but in times of zero or negative growth become obvious. The benefits of increased productivity should accrue to working people in the form of wage rises and shorter hours that way we wouldn’t be living in an economically crippled state where the gap between rich and poor continues to grow and in which in fact the poor are set to get poorer and poorer in absolute terms.

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