On 23 November 2022, the House of Lords is due to debate a motion from Lord Shipley (Liberal Democrat) to take note of the report from the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee, ‘Skills for every young person’.

The Youth Unemployment Committee was appointed in January 2021 to consider youth unemployment and skills in England. The committee published its report on 26 November 2021.

Launching the report, chair of the committee Lord Shipley said:

Youth unemployment has blighted our society for decades and its impact can endure for years. At 11.7%, the UK’s youth unemployment rate continues to be worse than many other countries, and today more than one in eight (12.6%) of our under 25s are neither working nor in full-time study.

Over 10 months, we spoke to young people with experience of unemployment, employers, school leaders and experts. Our report makes over 70 recommendations which would help to tackle youth unemployment. We urge the government to act.

1. Committee findings

The committee argued youth unemployment had “long blighted” society and found that young people in the UK were not receiving enough support to get into work. The committee said the Covid-19 pandemic had been a “perfect storm for youth unemployment” and made tackling the issue more difficult.

The committee concluded that the main “longstanding drivers” of youth unemployment were:

  • Skills gaps and shortages in existing and emerging sectors, damaging productivity. The committee argued there were shortages in emerging industries such as the green and digital sectors. It argued the narrow focus of the national curriculum on academic subjects did not help young people to “learn and showcase” their digital, technical or creative skills, nor help them to develop “essential skills like teamworking, problem-solving and communication”. The committee identified as a problem the absence of an official body for reporting and forecasting the country’s skills needs.
  • Inequal access to high quality careers guidance and a decline in work experience opportunities. The committee found that there were many good career guidance initiatives in place. However, it stated more could be done to ensure quality careers education was available to everyone and that advice should focus more on roles where there were “skills mismatches like the green sector”. The committee also found that career guidance often started “too late” for young people. On the issue of work experience, the committee found that there were challenges for employers in providing opportunities, and for schools in co-ordinating the available places.
  • Long-term underfunding and undervaluing of the further education (FE) sector compared with higher education (HE). The committee acknowledged the government’s aims to rebalance the FE sector with HE. The committee argued that in order to do this FE needed significant reform in several areas including: the funding system; societal perceptions that FE colleges are a “less prestigious route” compared with universities; and support for disadvantaged learners.
  • Lack of apprenticeship opportunities for young people. The committee argued that apprenticeships were in short supply. It stated the apprenticeship levy did not properly incentivise the hiring of young people. The committee found the practice of labelling existing jobs as apprenticeships benefited older, more experienced workers.
  • Inadequate support for disadvantaged young people. The committee found that some young people faced additional barriers because of factors such as: socio-economic background, for instance family’s finances; regional differences in employment and education availability; gender; ethnicity; and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). It found that it was hard to identify specific groups of people and address the challenges because of the way data was collected nationally. However, it concluded there was a “severe lack of programmes targeted at groups likely to face one or more type of disadvantage”.
  • Absence of coordination between government departments. The committee found that responsibility for youth employment sat between several government departments, and policy was created in silos. It argued this resulted in a “confusing mix of ideas” and initiatives and a “lack of accountability at the top”. The committee acknowledged the government had introduced many good measures, such as Kickstart, career hubs, youth hubs and an expansion in the number of work coaches in job centres. However, the committee argued these needed to be improved and better connected to each other. It said the success of these initiatives was limited by the lack of proper data collection; the fact that some schemes, such as Kickstart, were limited to those claiming universal credit; and the need for more effective local implementation.

2. Committee recommendations

The committee called for the government to do more to “tackle this urgent crisis”. Its main recommendations included:

  • A long-term national plan for identifying, measuring and addressing skills gaps and shortages, with a focus on the needs of the green and digital economy. The plan should be updated annually.
  • That the compulsory parts of the national curriculum and performance measures are “recalibrated” to put skills development at the centre. The committee stated the government should always place skills shortages at the core of the curriculum so that it equips young people with essential knowledge and the technical, cultural and creative skills the economy demands. The committee stated this would not “involve removing key subjects” but rather “refocusing on those that are essential to a good education, increasing school autonomy and facilitating the development of a broad range of skills”.
  • A new funding system for FE. The new method should be determined by student demand, and students accessing the lifetime skills guarantee at levels 2 and 3 should have access to automatic in-year funding set by a tariff. The committee argued this would ensure a place for any suitably qualified person and that it would result in “significant additional funding” for FE institutions so they could compete for resources with HE.
  • Reform of the apprenticeship levy so that it focuses on young people. Any employer receiving funding from the levy should be required to spend at least two-thirds of it on young people starting apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3 before the age of 25.
  • An education and workplace race equality strategy that focuses on removing barriers to work for young people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, given the “disproportionate impact Covid-19” had on them. It must include a “robust plan” for data collection and publication. The strategy should be “intersectional given many of the issues concerning race and ethnicity are cross-cutting with socio-economic background, gender, sexual orientation, disability and migration status”.
  • Access to tailored, one-to-one careers guidance for every disadvantaged young person. This should be assessed by Ofsted.
  • An “independent young people’s commissioner for youth aged 16 to 24”, with a specific reference to youth unemployment, education and skills. The purpose of the role would be to interrogate government policy in a similar role to that of the children’s commissioner.

3. Government response

The government published its response on 17 March 2022. It stated that tackling youth unemployment was a government priority, as highlighted in its ‘Levelling Up’ white paper published in February 2022. The government set out some of its measures to tackle this issue, including:

  • The Kickstart programme introduced to “fund the direct creation of high-quality jobs” for young people claiming universal credit and “at risk of long-term unemployment”.
  • The ‘Skills for jobs’ white paper published in January 2021, which set out the government’s “blueprint” to reform post-16 education and training.
  • A range of measures delivered to “help young people and employer’s benefit from apprenticeships”, including: promoting apprenticeships in schools; creating “clear progression opportunities” from T levels and traineeships; and providing additional funding to employers. The government stated that “with funding increasing to £2.7 billion by 2024/25, the government is showing its commitment”.
  • A youth investment fund created to “achieve levelling up across the country” and to give disadvantaged groups “appropriate support, tailored to their specific needs”.
  • The rollout of careers infrastructure, including careers hubs and youth hubs, across England to “support schools and colleges to provide comprehensive careers support”.
  • The appointment of Professor Sir John Holman as independent advisor on careers.
  • Skills Bootcamps launched to offer “free, flexible courses of up to 16 weeks, giving people the opportunity to build up sector-specific skills and fast-track to an interview with a local employer”.
  • The Unit for Future Skills established to “transform how government uses jobs and skills data to inform a responsive training system”.

4. Recent government policy

Since the committee published its report, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill was enacted. It received royal assent on 28 April 2022. The act implemented several of the proposals the government had set out in the ‘Skills for jobs’ white paper. The legislation introduced the following measures:

  • a legal requirement for colleges and other providers to work with employers to “develop skills plans, so that the training on offer meets the needs of local areas”
  • reform of the student loans system, so that “from 2025 learners can access a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university or college, which they can use at any point in their lives”
  • new powers for the secretary of state to “intervene when colleges are failing to deliver good outcomes for the communities they serve”
  • a requirement for schools to make sure all children get to meet people that provide technical education routes, such as apprenticeships, T Levels or traineeships
  • green skills prioritised, so that the “training on offer across the country meets the needs of the growing green economy and helps gets more people into jobs”
  • a “unified skills system that builds from quality gains achieved” with apprenticeships and T levels by ensuring all technical qualifications “match up to employers’ high standard”

Between February and May 2022, the government held a consultation on the lifelong loan entitlement. In addition, between March and July 2022, it sought views on its green paper about reforms to the SEND and alternative provision system in England. The government is currently reviewing responses to both consultations.

In April 2022, the government announced that employers in eight ‘trailblazer’ areas across England were working with local training providers to create skills plans that aligned with what local communities needed.

5. Read more

Cover image by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash.