‘No jobs without experience, no experience without jobs’: Young UK workers face Catch-22

Reuters/Luke MacGregor
To the frustration of young jobseekers nationwide, most employers say work experience is a critical factor when recruiting, yet 80 percent do not offer work experience programs to school students, a study has shown.

A survey of 18,000 UK employers by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills found that two-thirds of employers say they value work experience as the highest factor when employing, compared with half who said the same about academic qualifications.

Of the 80 percent who said they do not offer student placements, one-fifth said “nothing could persuade” them to do so.

Despite the fall in youth unemployment from 22.5 percent in 2011 to 16.9 percent in 2014, young people are finding it harder than ever to find jobs, partially due to the discrepancies between employers expectations of candidates, and actions to help young people secure work.

The report also shed light on the prevalence of nepotism and privilege in the current employment market, with employers saying that their favorite way to employ young workers is through word-of-mouth and personal recommendations, meaning it is less about “what” you know, and much more about “who.”

“The whole thing is really a massive Catch 22,” said Fiona Kendrick, chair and CEO of Nestlé UK and Ireland, who is a UKCES commissioner.

She said employers and schools needed to communicate with one another to establish links for students. Kendrick said one option would be for big employers to create “hubs” with smaller local companies to connect with schools and colleges.

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“Smaller companies don’t have the resources, they don’t know how to go about it, and many of them don’t know how to get involved with the schools,” she added.

Students, the report found, are now less likely to be working part-time or “small jobs” which have traditionally been seen as a means of gaining work experience.

The proportion of students working alongside school has halved in the past 25 years.

In 1990 more than 40 percent of 16 and 17 year olds had a part-time job alongside their full-time education, whereas in 2014 the figure stood at less than 20 percent.

The report suggests this may be because students are put under increasing pressure to focus on exams, or because advances in technology mean the number of “small jobs,” such as newspaper and milk deliveries, have been reduced.

A quarter of UK employers who did not offer work experience said they had neither the time nor resources to create a position, while 40 percent said there was no suitable vacancy.

It was further found there was a geographical discrepancy between different areas. In Hull only 29 percent of employers offer work experience, compared with 46 percent in Cheshire and London.

The government removed compulsory work experience for 14 to 16 year olds in 2012, with critics calling the move a “retrograde step,” which made employers who care about youth employment “sad and angry.”