Hearing about youth employment pros- pects rarely brings much joy to the stu- dent population; the ‘sunny’ economic climate seems to be having a hard time break- ing through the cloud cover hovering over our age group. A recent outburst on youth un- employment by the Chief Schools inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, blamed the poor quality of education and training for 16-19 years olds, leading them to join, the unhelpfully named “army of 1.2 million Neets” (those Not in Em- ployment, Education or Training). Supposedly these programmes are not preparing young people for the world of work; in the words of Sir Michael, young people are, “far too relaxed in terms of meeting deadlines” and “lackadai- sical in the way they present themselves for work”.
While Sir Michael’s views may initially seem to reflect those of at least one acquaint- ance of most students, to trivialise his remarks by branding them ‘satirical’ masks the darker implied meaning of his point, which is, es- sentially: if you shape up, you get the job you want. In his own words, “If [you] dress inap- propriately, speak inappropriately and have poor social skills, [you] are not going to get a job”. However, what are the chances of a young person growing up in a low-income household getting a job they want compared to someone from a high-income household applying for the same job? It is not ludicrous to state that the job market is skewed in favour of the richer among us.
These days the young face a world alto- gether different than the one Sir Wilshaw grew up in. The impact of globalisation and economic modernisation means young people find themselves in an increasingly competi- tive marketplace. The youth market see their worth reflected poorly in wages offered by companies for their skills, which are pushed down by companies’ relentless drive for in- creased profits and opportunities for employ- ers to relocate to where wages are cheaper. So we are left with the fact that salaries have decreased in real terms, unpaid internships are the norm, and youth unemployment re- mains stubbornly high. Labour is cheap for those in power and as jobs become scarce, connections are more important than ever. Income inequality is growing in the UK and this is becoming a serious issue which must be met head-on in order to guarantee sustain- able growth in the future.
This government has promoted policies that has introduced competitive, commer- cialised education policies, so Sir Wilshaw shouldn’t be surprised that some academies and free schools refuse to allow students to stay on once they fail to pass their GCSEs. They compete in a marketplace also, and they need to present good students with good marks. The young who need the most atten- tion get left behind.
The sad fact is that whilst those in charge of the current education system may have de- cided to blame young people for the results of their meddling in a vital public service young people need not be so self-critical. We are the most innovative age group of the working population and can apply ourselves to meet this challenge, despite our modern approach.