21 Aug 2013

GCSE results day: what options do school leavers have?

As GCSE results roll in, 16-17 year old school leavers face a daunting unemployment rate of 40 per cent. Channel 4 News looks at their options.

Youth employment and unemployment, ONS figures

The vast majority of Year 11s opt to stay on in full-time education after completing GCSEs. Official statistics show that 1.2m of the 1.46m 16-17 year olds in the UK are in full-time education.

But for those who do not stay at school or go on to college, the job market looks bleak.

While unemployment for all 16-64 year olds in the UK has hovered around 7.8 per cent since the general election of 2010, it is more than four times as bad for young people.

For 16-17 year olds not in education, the unemployment rate has risen from 36 per cent to 40 per cent over the same period.

Bad attitude?

Despite efforts from the government to kick-start youth employment, research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has found that less than a third of employers are taking on young workers.

It seems that good grades are not enough. The Federation of Small Businesses said qualifications are incredibly important but “are not enough to ensure that young people flourish in the workplace and offer employers the skills they need”.

What is it that employers want? A survey by the FSB found that almost half of small businesses said that young people were lacking in their general attitude to work.

Perhaps they have got a point – according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) almost 50 per cent of 16-17 year olds not studying are not looking for work either. That’s 117,000 teens registering as “inactive”. What they are doing is anybody’s guess.

Beyond a bad attitude, 40 per cent of businesses surveyed by the FSB claimed that young people’s literacy and communication skills were not up to scratch.

The FSB has called on the government to reform the GCSE system to improve the literacy and numeracy of school leavers. “No matter what job or career a young person goes into, in the modern labour market, basic functional skills are crucial,” the FSB said.

The current unemployment rate for 16-17 year olds not in education is 40 per cent (Image: Getty)

Options available

The CIPD said there are some “great examples”, however, of employers who are trying to address the unemployment trend by implementing young engagement strategies, creating apprenticeship opportunities or school leaver programmes.

According to the website Not Going to Uni, more than 90 per cent of apprentices enter employment or further training after completing their apprenticeship.

The average salary for an apprentice is £170 per week, and there are 280 different types of apprenticeship available.

David Way, executive director of the National Apprenticeship Service, said: “Exam results day can be a really stressful time. The good news is that with even more apprenticeships available, there are even more opportunities for young people to earn while they learn, giving them a great head start to their working life.”

Apprenticeships are just one of the “debt free options” championed by Not Going to Uni, which also suggests that school leavers check out the variety of school leaver programmes on offer with big firms and also sponsored degrees, where you split your time between work and study, are paid for both – and guaranteed a job at the end of it.

The Department for Education said it was taking decisive action to transform vocational education by funding a place in education or training for every 16 and 17 year old who wants one, providing £180m of targeted support to help them stay in education.

A spokesperson for the DfE said: “We are also overhauling vocational qualifications to recognise only high quality courses that lead to a skilled trade or profession.”

Help and advice

The National Careers Service has this year launched a results advice road show initiative which is providing face-to-face workshops across the country during August and September, as well as Q&A sessions on Twitter and Facebook under the hashtag #ResultsAdvice.

It said there is evidence to suggest that many young people drop out of courses because their chosen course was not suitable for them and did not meet their expectations.

Meanwhile, 22 per cent of school leavers who would have liked to continue their education fail to do so because of a lack of awareness of what courses might benefit them.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said: “At a time when young people are making important choices about their future, we want them to know the full range of opportunities available to them. This includes how an apprenticeship could help them achieve their career goals, whether they want to be a lawyer, a pilot or even a space engineer.”

Whatever the outcome of exam results, National Careers Service adviser Tom Laws said: “There are options available and help and support at hand. There is a lot to think about so it’s a good idea to take some time to explore different career paths to ensure you make the best direction for you.”

The National Careers Service is hosting a chat on Twitter #ResultsAdvice on Friday 24 August, where young people can discuss their options with advisers on Twitter. A free confidential helpline is available on 0800 100 900 with experienced careers advisers and there is further advice, forums and more information on the locations of its road show on its website here.