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Supply and demand

Young adults in the UK are facing an employment crisis that has the potential to create overwhelming problems for the future.

Youth unemployment has been rising for more than a decade, with almost 1 million young people now classed as Neet (not in education, employment or training). Graduate unemployment is now worryingly on a par with school leavers. Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that 25 per cent of 21-year-old university leavers were unemployed, compared to 26 per cent of 16-year-olds with GCSEs.

Yet, during the same period, the World Economic Forum identified a skills gap of 10 million manufacturing jobs worldwide, and a recent report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills found that one in three vacancies for trades like electricians and chefs are hard to fill because of skill shortages. Many innovative firms and organisations are opening up opportunities in the UK. But we are not developing in our young people the skills that these roles demand.

So where are we going wrong? Ahead of VQ Day, an annual celebration of vocational qualifications held earlier this week, Edge surveyed A-level students on advice and support in schools. The overwhelming majority (92 per cent) got the impression that their school wanted them to go to university, while 23 per cent said their school was more concerned with sending students to university than what was right for the individual.

The lack of vocational awareness among teaching staff is leaving thousands of students with limited choices. A third of young learners polled (32 per cent) said that vocational opportunities had never been presented to them, while 77 per cent were even discouraged from pursuing a vocational path.

The recent introduction of statutory guidelines on the provision of independent careers advice in schools has helped to address this issue. But it is not enough to simply tell teachers to promote vocational qualifications equally. The government has a duty to educate schools and teachers about their benefits and about vocational routes such as apprenticeships.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers is now lobbying Ofsted to include impartial advice on vocational qualifications in school inspections - a move supported by much of the sector. Only when we give young people genuinely good careers advice will we close the gap between employers' needs and job hunters' skills.

Jan Hodges is chief executive of the Edge Foundation, an independent education charity that champions technical, practical and vocational learning. www.vqday.org.uk.

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