Part-time jobs for sixth-form students down by half

Exclusive: Employment rates for 16- and 17-year-olds have dropped, finds Learning and Work Institute's Youth Commission

The proportion of young people working alongside their education has halved in 20 years

The number of sixth-form students who have a job alongside their education has halved since the 1990s, according to a new report from the Learning and Work Institute.

The report by the institute's Youth Commission, shared exclusively with Tes, reveals that the proportion of 16- and 17-year-olds working alongside their studies has halved from around 40 per cent in the 1990s to just 20 per cent.

"This may be a good choice for most in order to maximise their success in their studies," the report states. "But it also means young people are less likely than previous generations to have at least some experience of paid work once they enter the workforce."


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No experience

The report Fit for purpose? Education and employment support for young people explains that the employment rates for 16- and 17-year-olds not in full-time education have also fallen, from 60 per cent in the 1990s to around 40 per cent today – in part due to the increase in education participation.

Overall, one in 10 has never had a job (excluding holiday or casual work). That proportion has remained unchanged in the last 10 years. While employment of 18- to 24-year-olds is back to pre-recession levels, 100,000 young people have been out of work for more than one year.

It also points out that young people are more likely to be in low-paid and insecure forms of work, with 12 per cent "underemployed"  – they have higher-level qualifications than is required to carry out their job. This is higher than in other age groups. One in five 16- to 24-year-olds are in some form of less secure work, such as zero-hour contracts or temporary work.

“In part these patterns reflect young people’s first steps on the career ladder as well as working while studying," the report states. "However, the quality of work matters for people of all ages and for many young people this can become a long-term reality rather than a short-term stage.

“In addition, young people are changing jobs less often than previous generations, and job changes can be a significant driver of wage rises. There is relatively little support for young people to progress from low pay, though a growing number of projects are looking at how to do this and Universal Credit includes the option to require people to participate in progression support, so-called in-work conditionality.”

The report also finds that progress improving the proportion of young people to level 2 and level 3 “has stalled at lower levels in England than in many other countries”. It continues: “The biggest gap with other countries is the relatively low proportion of young people undertaking vocational or technical education or apprenticeships.

“The complexity and constant ‘chop and change’ of the learning, skills and employment systems contributes to this challenge. They mean too many young people do not know where they can go for help or what support is on offer, and some young people miss out on help altogether. Whether it is support to find work or improve skills, policy is too often patchy, siloed and constantly changing.”

The introduction of T levels can help with the fragmentation and narrowing of the options available to young people, the institute says, but it cannot be the answer on its own. “Employers will need support to deliver high quality industry placements. There will be significant challenges sourcing enough industry placements in many areas and sectors.

"There is a pressing need for clear routeways into T levels from level 2 and on to higher level learning, as well as a vision of the learning landscape for young people. Funding for other qualifications, such as BTECs, should not be shut off before there is a clear and credible alternative in place.”

'Urgent action' needed to support young people

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said: “We need urgent action to provide better support for young people to develop the skills they need for a fulfilling career. This includes investment to kickstart stalled progress in education, a joined-up approach to engaging young people missing in a disjointed system, and widening access to vocational learning and apprenticeships. Failure to do this will not only limit young people’s life chances, it risks employers not having the skills they need to compete in the global economy.”

He added: "Progress improving the qualifications of young people has stalled in the last five years, leaving England lagging behind many other countries. This is compounded by policy disconnects and funding shortfalls which have left too many young people falling through gaps in support.

"Providers make a difference to thousands of young people’s lives every day, and employment has recovered to pre-recession levels. But too many young people are missing out because we don’t have a joined-up approach. It is unacceptable that only around one half of young people out of work that need help with their literacy or numeracy seem to be referred to a course that could help. There are 400,000 18-24 year olds out of work, but only 6,600 found work via an apprenticeship last year. 

"Reforms like T levels can make a difference, and new investment in further education is welcome. But we need to do better for all young people, making sure they get the best education, transition to work and support to build a career.”

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