Not just any job, good jobs! Youth voices from across the UK

Blog posts

25 Nov 2021

Cristiana OrlandoCristiana Orlando, Health Foundation Research Fellow

Since the start of the pandemic there have been many efforts across policy and practice to stem and reverse the negative impacts of the crisis on young people. We are now seeing a strong recovery in the economy and the labour market, including for young people. Unemployment for 16–24-year-olds decreased to 11.2 per cent in July-September 2021, compared with 14.8 per cent a year before, even dropping below pre-pandemic levels.

Nonetheless, the crisis has led to lower participation of young people in the labour market overall and, most importantly, the rate of young people in insecure work, including those on temporary and zero-hour contracts, is higher than before the pandemic. This suggests that the trend in poor quality youth employment we were seeing before the crisis is continuing.

As part of the Health Foundation’s Young people future health inquiry, IES carried out research with 1,345 young people aged 16-25 from across the four UK nations between April and September 2021. This included young people in school, college and university, as well as young people in full-time employment and those who were neither in education nor employment. The research, which is the largest UK-wide research focused on youth employment after Covid-19, used a youth-centred approach to look at good quality work from young people’s perspectives. It found that:

  • 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, but view prioritising quality as a ‘privilege’ and don’t believe the work available to them is of good quality.
  • 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. However, they feel that the place where they live, deprivation, lack of connections and support, as well lack of experience and employer attitudes are key barriers to accessing good quality work. Alongside this, they report that mental and physical health have a strong impact on their ability to access good quality opportunities.
  • Young people value support provided through vocational training, but 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. However, they feel like they do not receive enough information about these routes, and issues reported include feeling like careers advisers push them towards certain educational paths (particularly university), or industry sectors, and provide generic advice.
  • 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 are all reported by young people as being key to whether they have good experiences of work. However, the majority report struggling with their wellbeing in the workplace, having little awareness about their rights and responsibilities and not feeling comfortable speaking up about issues.
  • The pandemic may have a lasting impact on young people’s perception of good quality work.  Young people report feeling less confident when trying to access good quality work and that they value the quality of work less following the pandemic. The pandemic impacted young people’s learning and negatively affected their prospects and aspirations. Alongside this, the majority of young people in work have seen a change to their employment and either became unemployed, changed jobs, or saw their hours decrease. There are also many more young people reporting poor conditions after the pandemic compared to before Covid-19 in respect of their work environment, job security, number of hours, impact on mental and physical health, and work-life balance.

The research sets out five key areas for government, education, employers and employment services to support young people’s jobs and skills. These include practical recommendations on prioritising the creation of good quality training and work opportunities, improving the quality of, and access to, employment guidance and support, increasing support for the 16-18 age group specifically, scaling up investment in place-based approaches, and improving mental health support and literacy across support services and employers. The research findings and recommendations can be accessed here, and registration for the report launch event can be made here

As we emerge from the pandemic, it is essential that the 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.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.