Not Just Any Job
Young people do not believe the work available to them is of good quality
For those still in education, a common issue is the low quality of work experience
Young people feel let down by the quality of careers support they receive
Not just any job, good jobs! Youth voices from across the UK
A report for the Health Foundation’s ‘Young People’s Future Health Inquiry’ by Cristiano Orlando for the Institute for Employment Studies Nov 2021
This IES report takes a youth-centred approach to explore young people’s perspectives on what good quality work and support mean to them and the impact of the pandemic on their perceptions and experiences of work.
Before the life changing events of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Health Foundation’s Young people’s future health inquiry identified that the needs of young people aged between 12-24 are often overlooked by policymakers. The last 18 months have meant that young people are now at the top of the policy agenda. Whilst largely unaffected by the virus itself, the containment measures have touched upon all aspects of young people’s lives, from missing education, being isolated from wider support networks through to greater risk of losing their jobs.
The government was quick to respond to the scale of need, putting in place employment schemes that buffered young people against the worst of the economic downturn and helping unemployed young people find new roles. The size and speed of the response demonstrated that, with impetus, the government can create meaningful changes in the labour market and improve young people’s employment prospects.
As the country now looks towards the future, policymakers must now ask what lessons can be learned from the pandemic – and, crucially – how can we create a fairer, more equitable labour market for current and future generations of young people?
This report comes at a critical juncture for the UK. The government faces significant challenges ahead, supporting people to recover from the multiple and varied blows dealt by the pandemic, alongside ambitions to address long-standing regional divides across the country. Delivering a better deal at work for young people should be at the top of this agenda, and this report sets out how employers and the government can work together to achieve this.
“Young people have been among the hardest hit groups in the Covid-19 crisis, losing out on education and work, with strong negative impacts on their mental health, aspirations and prospects. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is essential that recovery has good and fair work for young people at its heart. We have a responsibility towards young people, to empower them to access work which supports healthy and fulfilling lives, and to help them move out of work which has a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. Young people have a right to good quality work and they demand it. It is the duty of those supporting them, from government, to education, employers, and support services to provide it. This report includes the voices of 1,345 young people across the four UK nations. Insight and recommendations are based on what young people told us they want and need in order to access better quality opportunities”
Young people’s priorities for good quality work are expanding, but they are not reflected in the reality of the work they do
■ Young people value work which is stimulating, looks after their wellbeing, and allows them to grow. They want work that is interesting and fulfilling, secure and fairly rewarded, with clear career prospects, in an inclusive and diverse work environment where they feel respected, and where good mental health is supported.
■ Prioritising the quality of work is viewed as a ‘privilege’ by young people. For those who prioritise quality, there is a perception that they are in a privileged position to do this due to financial security, which enables them to be selective. Those who feel like they cannot prioritise quality often decide to take any job that provides an income. This is also tied to lack of opportunities in some local areas and lack of opportunities for younger age groups (16-18).
■ Young people do not believe the work available to them is of good quality. Place, and particularly deprivation level, lack of experience and employer attitudes (often perceived as not valuing younger employees), compound to make young people feel that opportunities available to them are poor quality. For those still in education, a common issue is thelow quality of work experience, often not related to their interests or not teaching them new skills.
Key enablers that support young people’s access to good work also act as barriers
■ Young people say that previous work experience and knowing the right people are key to accessing good quality work. The most important factors in accessing good quality work, according to young people, are previous work experience, networks and knowing the right people, having the right qualifications and skills, availability of jobs in their local area, and confidence.
■ Place, deprivation, lack of support, lack of experience and employer attitudes are key barriers to accessing good quality work. Structural inequalities are traditional causal factors that young people report, but beyond these, they perceive a mismatch between the preparation for work they receive and the requirements of the world of work. Young people do not believe an even playing field exists, as competition in the job market is fierce, qualification requirements have become more stringent, and employers have unrealistic expectations of the extent of experience they can bring, while also treating them as easily replaceable resources.
■ Mental and physical health are important influencers in young people’s ability to access good quality work. Mental health has an impact on ability to access good quality work for over one in five young people, and physical health for over one in three. Disabled young people, males and non-binary people, and those from white ethnic backgrounds report the strongest impact compared to those in other groups.
Young people value support provided through vocational training over other kinds and feel let down by the quality of support they receive
■ Young people say that apprenticeships and traineeships provide the most useful support to access good quality work. There is no strong majority of young people that find any of the support offered to them most useful. However, a large minority think vocational routes such as apprenticeships and traineeships are very useful. There is little awareness of Kickstart and Youth Hubs among the general young people population, but awareness of these is higher among young people who are in touch with the benefit system.
■ There is awareness of trade unions, but few young people are part of one. Over one in four young people feel that support from a trade union is very or somewhat useful. However, only a small minority of young people consulted are or have been part of a union. Reasons for this relate to age, lack of representation of young people in union membership, and joining costs.
■ Young people feel let down by the quality of careers support they receive. Issues include careers advisers pushing students towards certain educational paths (particularly university), or industry sectors, and providing generic advice without sharing the full range of options or tailoring support to the interests students express.
■ Good practice includes mentorship and employability programmes, school-employer engagement, and tailored careers support. Common to young people’s accounts of things that work well are feeling that those supporting them invest time in understanding their needs and ensure they access good quality opportunities aligned to their aspirations.
There is a discrepancy between young people’s aspirations for work and the reality of their working conditions
■ Feeling valued, supported, and that the employer cares about wellbeing is key to whether young people have good experiences of work. Young people who have experience in industries such as food and hospitality or in small businesses are more likely to report negative experiences of work, including not feeling supported, and that their time and labour is not valued (particularly those on minimum wage). Young people in professional jobs or in bigger businesses report more positive experiences, linked to diversity in their tasks, and feeling supported, that their wellbeing matters, and that employers invest in them.
■ Young people struggle with their wellbeing in the workplace. The majority of young people in work often or sometimes experience stress, anxiety, low mood, feeling overworked, a lack of motivation and confidence, concerns about income, problems with sleep, and not feeling valued. A notable minority sometimes or often experience discrimination, bullying, or harassment.
■ There is little awareness about rights and responsibilities at work and young people do not feel comfortable speaking up about issues. There is a general lack of understanding and confidence around rights and responsibilities at work, and around navigating things like contracts, policies, and relationships with employers. Young people are not sure where to look for information on these aspects of work and feel that employers take advantage of their lack of knowledge. They also lack confidence to speak up about issues at work, as they feel at a disadvantage due to their age and to workplace hierarchies.
The pandemic may have a lasting impact on young people’s perception of good quality work
■ Young people feel less confident when trying to access good quality work and they value the quality of work less following the pandemic. Just under two-thirds of young people feel the pandemic had a negative effect on their confidence to look for and secure good work, and just under half feel it negatively affected how they value the quality of work. Males and young people from white ethnic backgrounds are more likely to report a negative effect compared to those in other groups.
■ The pandemic affected young people’s learning and negatively affected their prospects and aspirations. This is tied to disruptions in learning, perceived increased competition for jobs, particularly in lower-skilled sectors which are seen to attract larger pools of candidates, and lack of access to work experience. There is a discrepancy in young people’s outlooks. Those in higher education are more likely to be interested in professional sectors and feel more positive. Those in school or college are more likely to be looking for work experience or part-time work, and feel less confident about their prospects.
■ The pandemic has affected young people’s choices and priorities for education and work. Despite the mixed impact of the pandemic on young people’s outlooks, many report positive impacts on their priorities for work, including prioritising having good work-life balance and placing more value on being paid and treated fairly. The pandemic also affected many young people’s choices to stay in education, either for fear of delaying their learning or to avoid facing the risk of unemployment during lockdowns and instead gain qualifications which would give them a head start once they entered work.
■ The majority of young people in work have seen a change to their employment as a result of the pandemic. During the pandemic the majority of young people either became unemployed, changed jobs, or saw their hours decrease or increase. Where young people report unemployment, rates are highest among those aged 22-25, those from white ethnic backgrounds, male respondents, and disabled young people.
■ Many aspects of the quality of work have worsened after the pandemic; some have improved. There are many more young people reporting poor conditions after the pandemic compared to before the pandemic in respect of the work environment, job security, number of hours, impact on mental and physical health, and work-life balance. There is a small increase in those reporting good conditions following the pandemic around feeling valued, making good use of skills, having opportunities to progress, and pay.
Among the recommendations of this report are (see pg 10)
■ Improving the quality of careers guidance and support. Moving beyond the requirement to provide careers guidance, central and devolved governments should collaborate with national careers services and education providers to invest in the provision of high quality support, which is tailored and person-centred, and in good quality work experience.
■ Investing in enhanced forms of support. Central and devolved governments should collaborate with local governments and education providers to invest in widened provision of mentoring schemes and employability programmes. These should be open and advertised to all young people, to ensure equal opportunities for learning, training, and work experience.
■ Extending eligibility for the DWP Youth Offer.
Central government should extend access to DWP Youth Hubs, employability programmes, and job search support, to all young people, and ensure information on the Offer is broadcast widely and accessibly. As called for in the ‘A better future’ paper, this should also include an extended Kickstart offer for disadvantaged young people.
■ Repurposing and promoting national careers service offers. National careers services should repurpose current online information advice and guidance (IAG), with a stronger focus on providing youth-friendly and easy-to-navigate information on all post-16 options, as well as national job search portals advertising opportunities, including employment, training and work experience,
tailored to young people. The repurposed IAG should be promoted widely, in collaboration with education providers, youth employment and wider support services.
■ Building systematic education-business engagement. National and local careers and employment services should increase investment in employer engagement and partnerships. This includes developing guidelines to improve school-business links, educating employers on young people’s assets and potential, supporting employers to improve capacity and resources to engage with education, and ensuring opportunities for exposure to the world of work throughout all stages of education.