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Youth unemployment – a challenge for the RSA?

August 13, 2009 by
Filed under: Credit crunch, Politics, The RSA 

It is welcome that there is, at least, a national mood of concern about the rise and rise of unemployment among the under 25s. They were not to blame for the economic mistakes made by Government, business and consumers. Most have done their best in the education system on the promise that their efforts would be rewarded, a promise that is now being broken. And we worry not only that young people with no money and no purpose will get into bad ways, but that a life on benefits is an easy habit to pick up and a hard one to kick.    

Peter Mandelson said yesterday that youth unemployment was a problem which requires commitment from all quarters to be solved. He would say that wouldn’t he? Yet, this is the kind of challenge to which the RSA has responded over its long history. 

So here’s an idea (with the implication of some  help from HQ if it was taken up); how about RSA groups in towns and cities organising civic youth jobs summits? These would be events for the public, private and voluntary sector plus motivated individuals including a targetted cross section of young people themselves.

The events would start with an initial presentation about the nature of the problem and some of the ways local initiatives could tap into national funding streams. Such a presentation should be available from the RDA, the council or from a number of national bodies (and we will have Fellows in most of these organistions). It would then use an open space format to develop ideas but with an emphasis on people developing plans they are themselves willing to implement. If more than one groups of Fellows were willing to take this forward the RSA could create a web space to link together those working on events and developing ideas. 

How about it? It is certainly the kind of initiative that would have made the RSA founders proud.



  • Tessy Britton *FRSA*

    Hi Matthew

    I think that there are some Fellows on the Isle of Wight who have been considering ways in which they can help the employment and economic situation locally – in the context of their existing environment. They seemed very focused on the needs of young people.

    Tony Spalding and Sally Davis could give you an update on their plans for a meeting they were planning in September.

    • matthewtaylor

      Thanks Tessy I’ll get on to this when I’m back from my (second!) holiday. Have you got e-mail contacts?

  • Simon Field

    I love it. being just a little under 25 myself, I have many peers just out of university and otherwise, desperately seeking work. But with so many avenues currently closed to them, there needs to be some way that they can keep motivated about employment prospects, before the pressures of money send them back home to live with parents… or worse.

    • matthewtaylor

      Thanks Simon. Are you a Fellow may I ask?

  • Gary Hoyte

    Hello Mathew
    Yes, I’m up for taking this forward. My local town is Wallingford, Oxfordshire. The local business group is one avenue where the initiative could be raised. Anyone else nearby?

    • matthewtaylor

      Thanks Gary I’ll try to get someone to get back to you on this and help you link in with other local Fellows.

  • Chris Luffingham

    Hi Matthew,

    In short, I think it is a great idea (and it’s not just because you’re my boss!!).

    In Bristol I have been working with Alan Boldon to develop a more inclusive internship programme. During some initial conversations we identified a host of short comings in many of the current unpaid internship programmes out there. Notably that the profile of the young people who were ending up on these programmes were sourced from an extremely narrow demographic – white, middle class and university educated.

    Entering into an unpaid internship necessitates several criteria being met; a benefactor or some other significant personal funding, having to demonstrate considerable previous experience and/ or commitment to the sector or industry that you are applying for and not insignificantly you also have to know where to look in order to discover the opportunities that are available to you – providing you are able to surmount the first two obstacles.

    When something like 84% of all unpaid internships in the arts sector leading directly to paid employment (Cant find the source…sorry!!), the case for removing those barriers is an extremely powerful one.

    There is also the question of whether an unpaid internship, of the kind that are so prevalent, is actually legal. There is no exemption for unpaid internships in the minimum wage legislation. Particularly ironic given that any career in politics will almost always begin by serving an internship either in the constituency or in Westminster.

    I have been engaged with a number of Fellows in and around Bristol to start looking at some of these issues and I know Alan has been talking to people at New Deal of the Mind. I think your comments and call to arms in terms of the wider Fellowship could be really significant in helping to address what is a major problem.

    • matthewtaylor

      Fantastic Chris. This is a great initiative and we have thousands of arts Fellwos who could engage once you have some ideas to discuss with them. You might also link in with the RSA Arts and Ecology site.

  • carl allen

    The learned Fellows of the RSA would surely not be drawn into an exercise where the employment crisis for the young is not considered alongside the employment crisis for the older generation.

    Or is there an unproven assumption of no employment crisis among the older generation.

    The learned Fellows deal with dilemmas and contradictions moreso than with mundane crisis.

    A case of balance … bringing the future into the present and carrying the present into the future.

    • matthewtaylor

      Fair enough Carl. We are also doing a project on ‘olderpreneurs’ exploring how best to support people over 50 who want to start or expand their own businesses.

  • Adrian Thacker

    Thanks for this post Matthew

    I work with The Prince’s Trust (West Midlands Region) and naturally youth unemployment is top of the agenda here. Some 30% of JobSeekers Allowance claimants are 18-24 yr olds.

    There are a number of govt initiatives seeking to mitigate youth unemployment, notably the Future Jobs Fund. A number of charities (eg environmental) and public sector organisations (eg PCTs, Local Authorities) are involved, though with govt funding being for 6 months, there’s the danger of the young people going back on JSA just before, erm… the general election. With the RDA, we’re also helping young people into self-employment, which is crucial in a region which today ranks among the less entrepreneurial parts of the UK.

    One thing is sure. Birmingham has a proud tradition of civic engagement, and I know from personal experience that many sections of the city’s business community take an interest in this issue. By all accounts, there’s quite a lively RSA network too, and I’d be happy to plug into any initiatives and broker various connections. Rather than re-invent the wheel, it might be a case of the RSA adding value to what’s already happening.

    • matthewtaylor

      Thanks Adrian. It would be great to get something going in Birmingham or the wider West Midlands involving the Fellowship. I’ll ask someone to follow this up with you.

  • Pingback: Unemployment - just following the tide? « The 2020 Public Services Trust Blog()

  • Ned

    Definitely agree that this is along the right train of thought. I am sure that ideas will develop through putting people together in locally focused events. However I agree with Adrian Thacker that it is as important to add to, and support what is already happening (once it is identified!).

    This initiative set up by people i know from my secondary school is a good example of something well worth supporting, and extending programs like this is very important:

    • matthewtaylor

      Thanks Ned. Really liked the site – it is a great initiative and should be copied. I will try to mention in my blog over the next few days.

  • Michael Hooper

    Actually I would suggest that youth _underemployment_ might be a more revealing avenue to pursue, especially considering the poor state of the economic data collected about this aspect of the labour force.
    It’s an aspect that has received some recent attention in Australia’s mainstream press, seeking to account for the reasons why Australia’s unemployment rate refuses to rise:
    I think much more research is needed in this area of the UK’s labour force and that focussing on younger people is an ideal way in, since they are much more likely to adapt to difficult financial situations in ways that are obscured by the inherently conservative methods by which economic data is typically collected. They are also more likely to exhibit frustrations in ways that are potentially both more destabilizing and more restabilizing than older workers.

    • matthewtaylor

      Thanks Michael. Really enjoyed the article although surprised he didn’t make the other point that under-employment is cheaper to the state and taxpayer (in terms of benefit costs) than unemployment. I agree with you that the way young people live is not easy to capture in the statistics. One example of this is the phenomena of NEETS. The figures suggested – even when youth unemployment was low – a huge army of lost teenagers. But I suspect the reality was of many young people taking time to chill out and relying on bits of money earned in the informal economy.

  • John

    I am pleased to read someone who is near to the levers of power is switched on to the problem of unemployment. Hopefully, the brains of britain that can be found in the ranks of the RSA will come up with the policies that will force decisions and actions by our leaders that will
    a) make it possible for people to set up their own businesses ( in the widest sense of the word)
    b) make it easier for people/businesses who/which already have the power to offer jobs and careers to feel that now is the time to invest for the future, rather than to retrench.

    in effect help people to be proactive rather than clubbing them down and holding them back.

    skills and training are vital, but the middle east and much of europe is full of young unemployed and underemployed graduates and school leavers, so using those talents appears to be a challenge that many economies in the world struggle to meet. i hope we can meet the challenge here in the UK and learn from the good examples that are out there already.

    • matthewtaylor

      Thanks John. Can I ask, are you a Fellow?

  • John Craig-Sharples

    Many thanks for this post. Matthew. I have discussed your idea with colleagues here at the London Borough of Sutton and we would certainly be interested. We have done a lot of work to try and mitigate the effects of the recession and feel that youth unemployment is a key issue.

    • matthewtaylor

      Thanks John. I’ll discuss with colleagues here and ask someone to contact you.

  • Christine

    Being a visual thinker, (and having read both Matthew’s and John’s posts, and others), I see that existing businesses could be persuaded to invest in the younger population if they are allowed to see two things, and link them together. If one is to imagine our macro economic system as a human body, small businessmen can visually SEE how they fit into the machine to help make it run efficiently. Then, a second scaled-down version of the same image, to show THEIR business as a human body, and how young people with new skills, creativity and drive fit into the perpetuity of THEIR machine. I would allocate the hands, (following the imagery), to the youth sector. The picture would almost speak for itself.

    The province of Quebec has some excellent youth employment and encouragement initiatives, particualrly in the arts.

  • Olivia

    Given that today’s press have decided to feature student debt (again) as a top story I wonder if youth unemployment, particularly for those who “have done their best in the education system on the promise that their efforts would be rewarded” could be examined from the perspective of social hierarchy. I believe that increasing and revitalising employment opportunities for young people to engage in local business and community services would have a hugely transformative effect on society in general (let alone unemployment rates). However, perhaps, in order to effectively tackle youth unemployment, we actually need to re-conceptualise the job-market for young people. For example, we do very little to challenge the existing relationships between social hierarchy, the global market and the various career paths for young people that exist alongside one another today. Given today’s press, should we question how much choice recent graduates really have, when it comes to pursuing experimental opportunities in development/local councils/entrepreneurship, when that oh-so-tempting 6 figure corporate graduate salary is just an application away, and the expected debt of students is pitched at 23k). Should we be asking ourselves whether it is these relationships that potentially re-enforce the present social aspiration gap; thus having a causal relationship with youth unemployment? Our perceptions govern our choices –and anyone hoping to actively engage with these challenges, needs to see the bigger picture – one full of contradictions for young people today.

  • Christine

    As my mind is currently wrapped around the concepts of Montessori, and how successful it is as a learning style, I am wondering if there is a way to implement the discovery method into the workforce in general, and into small businesses. Integration, openness, self-fulfillment, confidence and success are criteria that exist from early points in life. Surely it must continue into what we do, ‘for a living’, after school. Instead of running to achieve the grade, the bar, the ___ (fill in the blank), why not let young people smoothly integrate themselves into the work world? Then the emphasis on the big ticket is less-so made, and therefore alleviates possible discouragement or other situations that governments have to deal with because ‘those’ kids didn’t make the grade.

  • Adam

    I think Michael makes a really important point.

    The danger in how we respond to rising youth unemployment is that 1) they are not involved in the debate about the problem and the policy responses 2) that policy responses are designed by people who have no expertise in working with young people or understanding their very different lives, skills and interests

    Working at v, the National Young Volunteers Service, I obvisouly want to mention how volunteering can be a very constructive route through the recession for young people – including a new full-time volunteer programme targeting neets

    we have vinvolved teams of young people in every local authority area and I’m sure they would be interested in working with any fellows who are coming together in local areas to discuss what can be done – get in touch

  • Irene Campbell

    The SE Region AGM will take place on the 24th September in the Catering Section of the City College in Brighton. The students will feed and serve us and their tutor will come to answer any questions. An after dinner speaker from the college will talk at greater length about how vocational training works in our area and about the difficulties of getting jobs after the training is finished and youth unemployment generally in the college context.. How timely is that?

    • matthewtaylor

      It’s great Irene. Even better if the RSA comes up with some ideas for how it could make an impact in this vital area.

  • david baer

    The Center for Media Research has released a study by Vertical Response that shows just where many of these ‘Main Street’ players are going with their online dollars. The big winners: e-mail and social media. With only 3.8% of small business folks NOT planning on using e-mail marketing and with social media carrying the perception of being free (which they so rudely discover it is far from free) this should make some in the banner and search crowd a little wary.