20 Sep 2012

Plastic apprenticeships and jobs-hogging

We at Channel 4 have been looking in depth at the structural problems in the market for youth jobs. Our colleagues at C4 Education are launching a great documentary following four young unemployed Britons this week. I have been following a couple of people over the summer. Today we had a great event with politicians, CEOs and a cast of dozens of unemployed and underemployed youth [see below for the full video broadcast of the event].

I draw ten insights from this about youth jobs. All bear further investigation or statistical validation, but I think they begin to shed light on what is going on.

1. Jobs “hogging”
Sainsbury’s chief Justin King told us that there was less churn in the jobs market. Older workers are staying in work for longer. There are simply fewer points of entry to the jobs market for new entrants, whether the young, or returning mothers. Someone else pointed out specifically, in the case of teachers, that retired workers dipping back into the profession were blocking the progress newly-qualified teachers.

2. Tuition fees rot has set
David Miliband and others implored our audience to ignore the conditional debts and go for university if they want to. I asked our audience of 150 young people if they would advise a younger brother or sister to go to university: Most said “No”. When put together with the actual fall in applications, this is clearly of concern to the Coalition. Blame the media, or politicians, but the young wrongly believe that university will bankrupt them. Why not rebrand it the “graduate tax” that it almost is?

3. Incredible job applications numbers
There are 300,000 applications for 30,000 jobs at Sainsburys. At O2 chief executive Ronan Dunne tells me there are 60,000 applications for 1,500 jobs

4. Most CVs are not read by a human
Many have suspected this. Today’s event and some of my own recent reporting has shown me that the impact of the computerisation of the job application process. The sheer number of applications has led to some degree of outsourcing of dealing with them. Probably you presume that a human flicks through it for a few seconds. What is now far more common is a computer programme will keyword search a CV with an algorithm (probably less sophisticated than Google’s). It would rank relevant words and skills (SQL, apps, Mandarin etc), and the proximity of those words and turn tens of thousands of applications into a few hundred candidates.

5. So young workers should game the system?
This can create problems. In tonight’s news I meet a first class economics graduate who just kept on being offered only jobs in sales and recruitment. I strongly suspect this is because her CV has those words as her work experience. The answer if she wants a job as a top city economist: change your CV entirely with a keyword-sniffing robot in mind

6. “Plastic” apprenticeships
Apprenticeships are absolutely key to the government’s fight against youth unemployment. Therefore this verdict again from Justin King at today’s Class of 2012 event is extraordinary.

“I do believe the word apprentice has become hijacked. A lot of things masquerade as apprenticeships which are not what you and I would recognise as an apprenticeship – learning a skill over an extended period of time…I think it’s pretty hard to do what most of us would think of as an apprenticeship in three or six months. Therefore the word has been hijacked, which I think is unhelpful in the debate…”

7. But big business can do more
Only 30 per cent of large employers offer apprenticeships, was David Miliband’s key statistic. What of the 70 per cent that do not? O2’s boss Dunne quoted new figures from the CIPD that “six in ten employers don’t offer any routes into their organisation for non-graduates”. Not just that, 44 per cent of employers don’t plan to employ any 16-24 year olds in the coming year.

8. And so can government
Today’s DWP Committee report said that this government’s youth contract was not going to meet its targets. The Coalition scrapped the Future Jobs Fund as one of its first moves. King argued that wage subsidies don’t really work, because they are temporary. He wants the return of the Confidence Fairy. The government seems to be casting around for important new changes to economic policy, particularly in relation to public investment spending.

9. But young workers need to be very smart…
Not just in search optimising their CVs for the robots reading them. There are huge skills gaps around that need filling. App development, food science, Mandarin-speaking, German-speaking, plumbing. to name just five.

10. Aspiration adjustment, at least temporarily
If politicians were forced to wear the mask of truth on this subject they would admit that for reasons of global competition and economic reality, young workers need to reassess their initial aspirations. It’s already happening with graduates to some degree. Politicians, however, don’t like to depart from the inspirational narrative that everyone can do anything.

For top tips on job seeking and an insight into the mind of the UK’s top employers, watch the debate in full:

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