In September 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with growing concern about its economic impact across the UK, the Kickstart Scheme became the latest in a very long line of initiatives targeted at assisting young people to gain entry to the labour market.
As the UK emerges from the pandemic and looks ahead, it is opportune to reflect on how policy makers have grappled with the challenge of managing youth transitions into the labour market, with the aim of minimising the risk and incidence of youth unemployment and the scarring effects of youth disengagement.
Harking back to the 1970s, when most young people left education at the age of 15 or 16 and were able to access employment opportunities within their local areas, there was little need for government support. This ‘traditional’ youth labour market was dismantled in the 1980s following economic restructuring, in particular the demise of traditional manufacturing industries, which hastened the reduction of jobs available to young people. What followed was a raft of policy interventions to stem the flow of youth unemployment; a redefinition of large sections of the education, employment and training systems for young people; and, consequently, an extension of the age at which most young people transition into the labour market.
The purpose of this paper is to map the trajectory of change within youth transitions which has occurred across the UK since the 1970s.
The focus includes a review of selected training initiatives that have been introduced to replace ‘traditional’ youth jobs; the expansion of educational opportunities for young people; and the shifting responsibility for youth transitions within national, regional and local government and, increasingly, outside of government. Foremost, it examines what we have learnt, where we have failed, and how we might move forward.
Professor Sue Maguire, Institute for Policy Research (IPR), University of Bath