Young people and employment

15 December 2015

By Andrew Mackenzie, Policy and Research Manager at Reed in Partnership. 


Tackling youth unemployment is one of the main challenges facing policy makers. The latest figures show that young people in the UK are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than people of other ages.

In Reed in Partnership’s latest report, ‘Young people and employment’, we surveyed over 2,300 young people aged 16 to 25 – a mixture of jobseekers and those in employment – to investigate the barriers they face moving into work. Drawing on this and our experience of helping over 150,000 people into sustainable employment since 1998, we make several recommendations to help young people transition from education into the labour market.

Barriers to employment

While young people in our survey cite a range of barriers to finding employment, their main concern – by a considerable margin – is that they have a lack of experience.

The frustration raised most frequently by young people is the ‘catch 22’ situation of employers looking for experience without being willing to give young jobseekers a chance to gain it themselves.

For example, young people told us:

“Almost all employers ask for industry experience, however you can’t get that without first getting the job”

“I want to be given a chance by someone seeing potential and not just experience.”

The Government removed the statutory requirement to work-related learning, typically implemented through work experience, from the curriculum for 14-16 year olds in England in 2012. Given the importance of gaining experience of the workplace, we believe that this should be reinstated. The placements need to be of high quality and encourage the young person to explore a sector they are interested in. They also need to prioritise breaking gender and socioeconomic stereotypes. This means the model of work experience will need to be far more flexible than in the past with, for example, a young person allowed to work from a business one afternoon a week.

Careers advice

Fewer than 1 in 4 young people in our survey rated the careers advice they received as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.

Reed in Partnership’s Employment Advisers who work with young people report that poor careers advice in schools and colleges means many simply aren’t aware of the career options available to them. By the time they reach our advisors on employment support programmes, many young people have never had a discussion about routes into their desired sector.

When we asked young people who rated their careers advice as ‘poor’ or ‘not at all helpful’ why they held this view, many told us that the advice they received was too narrowly focused on directing them towards university. Over half said no one discussed vocational training options or apprenticeships with them.

Young people told us:

“If you weren’t planning on going to university there was no advice”

“I was told if I didn’t go to a Russell Group university I will fail in life”

In September 2012 the government transferred responsibility for the provision of careers advice for students aged 14 to 16 from local authorities to schools. This means schools can decide how to deliver the service and there have been concerns that this has led to a decline in quality with a ‘postcode lottery’ of provision.

Unison surveyed 700 secondary schools in England in June 2014 and found that 83% were no longer employing a dedicated careers adviser, instead using support staff to deliver careers advice. A recent report by Ofsted found that three quarters of schools were not implementing their duty to provide impartial careers advice effectively or working well enough with employers.

The Government has attempted to bridge the gap with the National Careers Service, which offers support to young people online or by telephone. However, when we asked young people in our survey which service was most helpful in finding a job, only 6% said the National Careers Service.

There is a real risk therefore that the young people who need the most help – those disengaged from school – will find it most difficult to access careers advice. We believe the Government should enforce more prescriptive procedures and minimum service standards, with a guarantee that high quality face-to-face careers advice is provided to all young people.

Lack of understanding

Our research has also identified a chasm in the understanding by young people of what employers are looking for in an employee.

We know from previous research the value that business places on candidates having the right ‘mindset’. Mindset is the way people see and navigate life, which translates into the right attitude for work and a willingness to learn.

A previous study of thousands of top employers by James Reed, Chairman of Reed Group, found that 96% of business chose mindset over skill set as the key element in those they seek and retain. However, when we asked young people the same question in our survey, 3 out 5 said skill set was the more important to secure a job.

As an organisation that specialises in getting people ready for the world of work, we know that the wrong mindset is the biggest challenge someone has to overcome. Improving mindset – developing the drive, resilience and determination to succeed – is the first, and most important, step to employment.

We are concerned that our education system is teaching our children to view achievement through the narrow prism of qualifications alone. Qualifications are important to get young people through the door and into interview stage, but they cannot be viewed as a proxy for skills.

Work experience and careers advice have a vital role to play in developing young people’s mindset. Our schools and colleges work should place far greater emphasis on improving soft skills, such as developing communication and building resilience.

We hope this research has helped to shed some light on the barriers facing young people entering today’s labour market.

You can view the full report here. There is no silver bullet to tackle the problem of youth unemployment, and we are enthusiastic about working together with partners to play our part, so please do get in touch and share your thoughts.


Reed in Partnership is a national provider of public services and has helped over 150,000 people move into employment, drawing on over 50 years of the Reed family of businesses recruitment experience. To get in touch please contact Andrew.Mackenzie@reed.co.uk.

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