Response to the OECD Skills Outlook Development 2015

A generation of unease

By Youth Ambassador Jack Welch Jack 2

The publication of this year’s Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Skills Outlook results make for a sobering reflection by any of the 20 member countries, not least the UK. This latest report analyses the trends, policies and current challenges for employers potentially able to provide young people with work.
From the set of statistics gathered, there are an indicated 35 million young people unemployed, aged 16-29, across the countries that are part of the OECD. In the UK itself, while youth unemployment has safely fallen to under 1 million, around 15% of those back in 2013 were categorised as NEETs in comparison to the rest of the population, which earlier this year was equated overall to 5.7% according to ONS figures.
A recommendation which indicated the wish to integrate more young people in the labour market was the removal of the gap between temporary contracts and permanent ones, so that job security can better be achieved, and that the skill sets of young people can be realised. Although in one sense they are not temporary, the debate over Zero Hour Contracts, where 40%, the highest of the age brackets were 16-25, demonstrates that many jobs on offer at the moment often do not provide sufficient security.
The report itself fits in line with some of the new government’s stances – social security, provided on a number of certain conditions, like returning to education, and relaxing employer legislation so that more opportunities like apprenticeships can be created. Despite that though, the UK sits in the bottom 25% of literacy and numeracy skills that would be adequate for most employers in the modern day. The detail outlines how the UK, like a number of other developed countries, have a labour market and education system that is likely to disadvantage young workers and benefit ‘prime age’ adults in return.
For YEUK, careers education in schools has been a constant priority to ensure students are getting the best advice on the direction that they should take for their futures, along with fundamental skills which any entry level job requires. In this report, it describes how most developed countries are moving into careers that focus on the service sector as opposed to low-skilled or manual labour based work.
Without the necessary qualifications, the likelihood a young person will face the ‘scarring effect’ by not being employed is greater. The report suggests that “High-quality careers guidance can help fill the skills gap in the economy by providing information about what jobs are available and what skills are needed for them.” It is imperative this feature in schools and colleges across the UK is taken very seriously, with an approach for the current generation’s needs.
A further concern raised involved the quality of university degrees and the saturation of over qualified students. The report accuses that many young people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to take courses which do not have a ‘skills’ focus and are more likely to face challenges in the longer term. However, many graduates who are said to be ready to enter the labour market, at 50-60%, the volume of qualified workers far outweighs the number of vacancies that are available.
Many UK universities have already faced pressure to design degrees that are appropriate to employers’ needs, which evidences a shift in culture of purely academic based learning. Apprenticeships as an alternative path, while largely praised, have shown that their availability in the UK still greatly lacks behind conventional work opportunities, and are not adequately developing skills in areas such as cooperation skills. The government has currently pledged 3 million more vacancies to be available, but if they will be guaranteed for the under 25s remains another matter.
In respect of gender equality, women are 5% more likely to be unemployed to their male counterparts. While young women in the UK do not face many of the social constraints that others may, the 20% rate in 2013 is indicative of unemployment trends bearing an issue with overall equality of opportunity.
In calling for greater collaboration between schools and employers to create more vocational based curriculum’s, with better emphasis on the quality of non-formal education, and combining resources between public services and schools to create programmes of training, the final result of the OECD findings do not feel too surprising. Its focus on the development of entrepreneurial education for example, as opposed to making a case for welfare in respect of economic security, indicates a pattern across many Western governments who are becoming more reluctant to subsidise youths out of work and to find new solutions as a result. For the UK though, it serves as a sharp wake up call for a rethink of its approach to educating the future generations, with so many unjustly below basic standards.

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