If at first you don't succeed, you don't succeed.
There's now a plethora of evidence to show that a young person who remains unemployed for a long time will earn less throughout their lives, will be less employable and will have long-term health problem. They will even die younger.
This lost generation will cost us a fortune. According to the Audit Commission, Britain's million Neets (16 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training) will cost the economy £35 billion in lost economic opportunities, plus another £13bn in state benefits. So tackling youth unemployment carries an economic as a well as a moral imperative.
Yesterday's report from The Work Foundation – Lost in Transition – suggests more than 450,000 Neets have never had a regular job, never taken that vital first step from education into work. Youth unemployment in Scotland is about 2.5% higher than the UK average. The Scottish unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds was 94,000 or 23.1% for the first quarter. And, worryingly, the numbers out of work for more than a year are rising sharply.
Paul Sissons, the report's author, says young adults lack the soft skills needed for the jobs available in the service sector. That closely echoes complaints from the training arm of the Glasgow-based Arnold Clark motoring group that 1850 of the 2280 youngsters who applied for apprenticeships with the company were "unemployable".
Youth joblessness is partly structural. Thirty years ago 25% of school leavers would have gone into manufacturing. Today it's less than 10% and most job opportunities are in the service sector, where soft skills are vital. In fact, youth unemployment has been rising since around 2001 and Scottish long term youth unemployment has risen by 1100% since 2007.
As Mr Sissons observes, there's a Catch-22 situation here. They don't have the soft skills employers look for but often the only opportunity to acquire them is on the job. Unemployment is also cyclical and, with the UK back in a double-dip recession, young people are faring worse than other age groups. That's partly because employment among the 25 to 65 age group has remained remarkably buoyant, thanks to workers' flexibility and willingness to tolerate part-time contracts, frozen pay and temporary shutdowns as the price for staying in work. If and when the economy begins to recover, these under-employed workers will pick up work ahead of those who have never worked.
Last month Georgina Wardrop, who has yet to secure a full-time job, despite graduating with a first-class honours degree three years ago, told the STUC conference: "I am not lazy and I have tried and tried to secure full-time employment." Meanwhile low-skill, low-paid temporary work is all that keeps her off the dole queue.
This is a crowded policy area. The mishmash of youth employment organisations needs proper co-ordination and it should be more responsive to widely varying local needs. Scotland's emasculated local authorities should be re-empowered and supported to do this. Secondly, as the OECD and Arnold Clark suggests there needs to be a closer relationship between educators and employers. In future, the Scottish Government's protection of university budgets at the cost of desecrating college courses will be seen as the politics of madness. Institutions such as North Glasgow College in Springburn, facing another £800,000 cut this year, should be expanding. Employers such as Arnold Clark should be giving these youngsters the chance to learn on the job. Fewer political platitudes and more real effort should go into bolstering manufacturing. Finally, the most disadvantaged youngsters need long-term (that's several years) mentoring by super coaches. Expensive? Hell yes but the cost of another lost generation will be a lot higher.
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