Youth unemployment hits one million in UK

Economists are warning of a ‘lost generation’ of young people who are long-term unemployed. As the global financial slump continues, the world of jobs is changing fast.

For much of 2011, it has felt like the economic forecast has grown grimmer by the day. In the UK, for example, news that youth unemployment had passed the dreaded one million mark was greeted with dismay, but not surprise.

Policy makers have spent months searching for ways to find employment for the UK’s ‘lost generation’. Efforts have focused on creating jobs – steady, salaried roles that will provide financial security and the prospect of a solid career.

But, as the labour market fractures, so too does the unshakable belief that a job – a defined, long-term position with well-specified responsibilities – is the only possible sort of working life.

As increasing numbers of skilled, talented people are being left without a full-time, permanent role, they are looking for more flexible ways to use their talents. Many work freelance, hiring themselves out to organisations for short term assignments that require the particular skills they offer.

And for cost cutting companies who can’t afford so many full-time employees, this arrangement works just fine. Rather than employing people in a permanent role, companies are paying people to get a particular task done. An events company, for example, might employ a designer to plan the decoration for several parties, and a copywriter to write advertisements.

Many companies have already jumped on the bandwagon of this new working model. This year, a website called ‘oConomy’ linked 250,000 firms with 1.3 million workers for 1.8 million hours of work. Their traffic has doubled since last year.

Companies using the service want the flexibility to hire staff with exactly the right skill mix for a particular role. And for employees, the attraction of taking on a range of challenging projects makes an exciting alternative to the grind of the same office every day.

Freedom or security?

For some people, the death of the conventional ‘job’ is an exciting prospect. It means breaking free of the dreary shackles of the ‘nine to five’; exchanging the rigid regime of the company man or woman for a life of constant change and opportunity, where the next exciting project might be just around the corner.

Others will disagree. Making a long-term commitment to a job, they will say, is not about becoming a cog in a machine. It is about becoming part of a corporate family; it means having an organisation that is prepared to invest in your development as a person, and that will stick by you when times get rough. Floating freelancers, meanwhile, just get cut loose to sink or swim.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather be a freelancer or have a long-term job?
  2. How important do you think work is for people psychologically? What would you do if you were long-term unemployed?

Activities

  1. Put together a CV that exhibits your skills and interests. What kind of job would this be most suited to?
  2. Research the ways the government proposes to address youth unemployment. How will these proposals affect you? What suggestions would you make to help young people get into work?

Some People Say...

“Work is what gives life meaning.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What are the reasons behind rising unemployment?
It is, of course, tightly bound up with global economic uncertainty. But western countries are suffering particularly, as companies move staff to developing nations where labour is cheaper. And while technology reduces the need for workers (as more jobs get automated) progress in sectors like design and computing isn’t necessarily replacing the lost work.
What should policy makers do about UK youth unemployment?
It’s hotly debated. Some say the minimum wage for young people should be lowered, making inexperienced workers more attractive, and thus able to get experience. Others argue that governments need to invest in paid apprenticeships and work experience for young people.

Word Watch

Salaried
A salary is a yearly wage. The word comes from the Latin salarium, an allowance paid to soldiers to buy salt (or, in Latin, sal).
Labour market
The supply and demand of employment and employees. Labour – i.e. work – has a value which can go up and down depending on how many people there are looking for the available jobs. When unemployment is high, many people apply for each job and the value of labour is low.
Freelance
Freelance work is done by workers on temporary contracts, or no contract at all. Freelancers may work for many different employers in a short time, whereas a traditional worker will be tied to a particular company.
Bandwagon
In the 19th Century, circuses used to parade through towns on highly decorated ‘bandwagons’. Politicians soon picked up the same trick to gain publicity, and bystanders would literally jump onto their bandwagons as a way to show their support.

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