* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Looking towards 2022, disadvantaged young people are only set to face greater alienation from the job market
Salvatore Nigro, CEO of JA Europe
Europe is experiencing a pandemic of its own. Not just the emergence of the Omicron variant and resurgence of COVID-19, but one which is set to blight the continent for far longer, defined by a dearth of career opportunities for young people.
In recent weeks, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the UK announced a record number of job vacancies, largely created by the economic consequences of the pandemic. And whilst many are describing this as creating a “buyer’s market” for those entering the workplace, the truth is that long-term unemployment remains one of the most likely circumstances for young people at present.
Emerging data is striking, yet hardly surprising. Barriers to entry such as education, employment, or training, have never been so high and it’s the most vulnerable young people who are being disproportionately impacted. Recent research by JA Europe, in association with the NN Group, has highlighted that 67 per cent of students with limited opportunities are at risk of falling behind in mainstream education. Over half of these students have also expressed increased concern for their future and their readiness for the world of work, despite 69 per cent of companies across Europe reporting talent shortages.
There are numerous reasons that have resulted in the gap between vacancies and young people who are considered “ready” for the workplace. Almost all employees require a strong digital skillset. For those from a lower socio-economic background, there are significant limitations in terms of digital participation and technological skills, mainly down to not having the financial resources to buy computers or pay costly internet subscriptions.
Despite these issues, very few employers make discretions during the hiring process, which is exacerbating existing inequalities in the labour market. Whilst the question is simple – how do we get more young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, into the workplace? – the answer is incredibly multifaceted.
It begins with an education focused on preparing students and young people for the careers ahead of them, especially those in abundance in a post-pandemic world. Governments must work with educational facilities and schools to facilitate the teaching of important digital skills. This must begin with the provision of adequate funding and resources, allowing all young people to be able to access computers and digital equipment.
Both educators and corporates are in the best position to take immediate and effective action to improve the prospects of disadvantaged youth. For educators, this means offering practical training and tailored programmes which address the unique needs of this group, with universities also ensuring their entry pathways are accessible and just.
Employers also have a crucial role to play in evening the playing field for young people. There are plentiful ways in which this can be done, from creating apprenticeships and job openings for youth, engaging with youth with limited opportunities with coaching and mentoring, hiring diversity officers and ensuring openings are accessible both online and offline, whether that’s through career fairs or jobseeker organisations.
NGOs and charities have an important role to play in facilitating the behaviour of corporates, when it comes to employing those from disadvantaged backgrounds, whilst helping schools, colleges and training centres to have the best possible ability to further the career prospects of young people.
Looking towards 2022, disadvantaged young people are only set to face greater alienation from the job market. Marginalised young people are more likely to experience vaccine hesitancy, whilst vaccination status is playing an increasingly prominent role in hiring decisions.
Metropolitan cities across Europe are seeing a mass exodus, as jobs move online, and workers seek a lower cost of living. Disadvantaged young people remain highly concentrated in urban areas with higher costs of living, and should salaries start to drop relative to inflation, young people from lower-income backgrounds are much more likely to suffer compared with their counterparts.
Not only is it incorrect to describe the 2.2% job vacancy in the EU and 1.2 million job vacancies in the UK as a “buyer’s market”, but it is also incredibly dangerous.
Disadvantaged young people, with a lack of digital skills who are metaphorically further away from the job market than their more privileged peers have never had it so tough. That is why it is essential that collaboration is at the forefront of government policy.
It is time to work with educators, businesses, trade unions and others to ensure that the necessary funding, resources and incentives are offered to ensure that young people cannot just enter the job market but continue to drive it forward post-pandemic.