Youth unemployment levels hit record high

For today's young Britons, widespread unemployment means the future looks bleak. As joblessness among 18 to 24-year-olds nears one million, we ask what it takes to kickstart a career.

In an already gloomy economy, it seems the kids, more than anyone, are not all right. The latest figures for the UK show the number of unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds has reached its highest level since 1994, with 21.3% out of a job.

These 991,000 young Brits are part of a global 'lost generation' struggling to find work. A staggering 43% of Spain's young people are unemployed, and in Africa and the Middle East the average is 24%.

During a recession the young are often hardest hit. Struggling firms don't want to risk hiring inexperienced staff: training newbies costs money, and established workers are less likely to move on.

The fact that university numbers are soaring hasn't improved the situation. As a larger and better-qualified cohort compete for fewer jobs, graduates are faced with a chicken and egg situation. To get a job, they need experience, but to get the experience, they need a job – or at least some contacts or leads to follow. For those that can't afford to work as unpaid interns, it's intimidating.

But young people can sometimes have an edge in the competition for jobs: few other age groups can boast such energy, and freedom from the family ties that limit options later on, and the fresh ideas employers crave. Start-up companies and entrepreneurs, especially in innovative areas of culture and technology, often depend on young people for creativity and spark.

So what does it take to get hired in this ominous climate? Qualifications, motivation, the right skills are all important. After that experience, unsurprisingly, is the magic ingredient – but you might have to think creatively about getting it. Anything that shows initiative, from running a school charity to directing a play, can be presented as relevant: be sure to carefully tailor your CV so it shows you really are the best candidate for the particular job.

Doing your background research, too, has never been so important. It makes you the first to ferret out opportunities, as well as giving you that all-important advantage during interview. Think about what you might want to do and visit possible workplaces to see what the reality is like. Many people even get lucky with speculative phone calls, letters or emails.

Jobs in a cold climate?

For those struggling to find a job, the circus of applications and rejections can be devastating – it can crush a person's confidence until they feel there's just no point.

For optimists, though, struggling against adversity can bring out the best in someone, pushing them to fulfill their potential. Tough competition, after all, makes people more driven, not less so, and the fact that someone has to make more effort to get their talent recognised might just mean achieving more than they'd otherwise think possible.

You Decide

  1. Should older workers move aside to allow opportunities for the younger generation?
  2. Is it up to the government to find solutions to the problem of youth unemployment – or should young people be making their own opportunities?


  1. Plan your ideal career. Think of some jobs and areas of work that interest you, and research the qualifications and experience you will need to to get there. Make an action plan!
  2. Research the level of youth unemployment around the world and write a comparison of life for the jobseeking under-24s in two contrasting cultures.

Some People Say...

“Youth today is more about struggle than freedom.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What are the long-term impacts of being jobless early in life?
As well as making it harder to get a job thanks to lack of experience and damaged confidence, some studies say a year on the dole before the age of 23 results, on average, in a 10% reduction in lifetime earnings.
Why are the young so affected?
Economists say the youth unemployment rate is usually about double the overall rate – because young people tend to be in less stable jobs. Also the jobless figures include full time students who are looking for work, which magnifies the figure.
What is the government doing?
The government have launched the Work Programme – a scheme of work experience, using specially chosen companies, to help unemployed people get experience to find work. And the apprenticeship scheme is expanding.

Word Watch

A particular group, bound together by a shared experience. The term can be specific, relating to a school or university year group, or general, describing a generation.
A slowdown in economic activity, characterised by an increase in unemployment, and a fall in GDP or economic output.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.