The government must appoint a minister for youth employment because the situation for school-leavers is so dire, the head of a major academy chain said today.
Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis chain of schools, said so many young people are struggling to find jobs that it is has reached crisis point.
It comes as Sir Daniel Moynihan, head of the Harris Federation of schools, said bright young Londoners from poorer backgrounds are missing out on jobs because they lack confidence, networks and social capital. He said teachers feel “awful” seeing pupils leave school in the pandemic and failing to get jobs, adding that one business said it would not employ an intelligent girl with four A-Levels from Essex because of her accent.
This week we reported how youth unemployment in London has soared 55 per cent since the pandemic to more than one in five jobless among 16-24 year-olds.
Responding to the data, Mr Chalke said: “We have a crisis. We have huge numbers of young people out of work and a huge number of jobs that need filling. It’s a perfect storm. We desperately need a minister or a task force to tackle youth employment and develop a coherent strategy. We need someone senior in government who gets up every morning to look at this.”
His criticism comes in the wake of a new report by the House of Lords committee on youth unemployment calling on the government to create a Young People’s Commissioner to champion the voice of people aged 16 to 24.
Sir Daniel said youngsters from ethnic minority backgrounds in London – where the jobless rate rises to a shocking 37 per cent – are finding it even harder to get jobs and often face unconscious bias from employers. He called on firms to do more to solve the problem.
He said: “There is an issue around unemployment in general but it is particularly affecting ethnic minorities. The social capital among many students is low, by which I mean the networks and contacts they have. Often a more middle-class family will know people who can give someone a start or an internship. Schools need to step up, of course, but firms also need to step up in terms of social responsibility and promoting diversity and inclusion.”
Both Mr Chalke and Sir Daniel know well-qualified students who have been rejected for jobs because of how they came across in interviews.
Sir Daniel said: “We had a bright young lady from one of our schools who was a lovely person with great A-Levels. She met all the criteria for a job but the firm said her accent was an issue for them with clients. That is an example of how firms could be more inclusive.”
Mr Chalke said he recommended a student for a job with a friend who is an employer, but his friend said the candidate would not make eye contact, gave monosyllabic answers and did not smile. Mr Chalke said: “This young person is highly intelligent but lacks the social skills to engage in an interview.”
He said the exam system was at fault because it does not value or teach students about teamwork and collaboration, relationships and working with others, which is what employers need. “The careers service we have is not working. The reality is that many kids have support naturally in the form of parents in the right kind of jobs, but many others are less fortunate.”
He also called for a “transition service” for people leaving education and going into work. “Because leaving school is a bit like walking off a cliff.”
The Department for Education said: “Young people are our future, which is why we made them a key focus of our Plan for Jobs.”