With thanks to Kate Kelman, Capital City Partnership, for this latest guest blog for Challenge Poverty Week
Youth unemployment rates may never again be as dramatic as they were when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s when there was often over 5000 young people at a time who were unemployed and claiming benefits in the Edinburgh. But the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on some employment sectors has had a very detrimental impact on young people’s employment. From a historic low in 2018 of just over 700, youth unemployment levels reached well over 3000 in 2020.
As the UK locked down in 2020 young people who were finishing school, college and university looked out to a bleak labour market. Youth unemployment levels in Edinburgh more than tripled as entry level jobs in hospitality, retail and construction dried up. Graduate recruiters were cautious to take on new staff as they adjusted to home-working.
Our Joined up for Jobs providers certainly stepped up during the pandemic and supported their clients with digital devices, connectivity and IT support; made steps to alleviate loneliness and maintain motivation during lockdown.
Young people who are out of work often face a range of issues; of the 635 young people who entered Joined up for Jobs services between April 2020 and March 2021, 32% had mental health issues, 17% have a disability and 53 were either homeless or at risk of homelessness. Advisors and support workers often help with accommodation, benefits advice, and wellbeing before starting a discussion about skills, education and work. For work to be sustainable young people need holistic support.
One barrier that has been difficult to address during the current restrictions is work experience. Thirty-eight per cent of young people who engaged with services in 20/21 haven’t had any experience of the world of work – a foot on the ladder. This is certainly related to the pandemic as opportunities were likely to hard to come by but it’s also a significant challenge to young people who live in poverty. Many first jobs or work experience placements are gained from family friends or parents’ work connections. Families in poverty may not have that social capital or networks to provide these links. That’s where the Young Person’s Guarantee in Edinburgh can help, liaising with employers, opening up opportunities and matching them with young people who need them. This winter through the Young Person’s Guarantee we will fill at least 80 paid work placements (paid at a least the Living Wage) in public and voluntary sector companies which have real progression and career opportunities. Alongside the UK government’s Kickstart initiative this scheme will give young people in Edinburgh valuable skills and experience to start them on their career pathways. Other initiatives will support skills and training, help with gaining a volunteering placement or to apply to college and university.
What is crucial is that we act now to avoid the scarring effects of unemployment for young people and deliver a partnership-based, joined-up response to the issue.