UK UNEMPLOYMENT hit its lowest level for almost six years in the three months to the end of August, dropping to just 6 per cent. This clearly brings some cause for optimism. But this positive sign of the health of the UK economy masks a more pressing concern. Despite some recent falls, the jobless rate among 16 to 24 year olds sits at 16 per cent – nearly three times that of the overall population.
It’s no wonder that new research has found that young people have a particularly pessimistic view of the UK economy. In a global survey of nearly 7,000 young people, Telefónica found that UK millennials – those aged 18 to 30 – are deeply concerned about a perceived failure to reboot growth in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. In fact, more than half believe the UK’s best days have been and gone. Like other generations, they are concerned about the nation’s economic health, with many citing unemployment, a lack of social mobility, and a widening gap between rich and poor as key barriers.
But more worrying still is the way these concerns are thwarting their potential. The research revealed that young people in the UK are less likely than their global counterparts to start their own business, with only a fifth of 18 to 30 year olds in the UK having entrepreneurial ambitions, compared to nearly a third in Latin America.
So what can be done about it? While there are clearly many issues to be resolved, we believe that UK businesses and governments are failing to switch young people on to the exciting opportunities available to them in one of our fastest growing sectors – the digital economy.
As a technology business, we know the digital economy has huge potential and that young people have an important political and economic role to play within it. In fact, our own research found that the UK needs 745,000 additional digitally-skilled workers by 2017 to meet current demand, and a fifth of these jobs can be filled by young people aged 25 or under. But it’s increasingly apparent that too many don’t recognise the scale of the opportunities on offer. So what needs to happen to help our digital natives take this opportunity?
There is undoubtedly a role for politicians to play. It is important that they show how they are investing in the digital economy to create jobs and fuel growth. But the private sector must take responsibility too. First, companies of all sizes, up and down the country, should be creating more quality opportunities to help the next generation get into work. This can be anything from partnering with local youth organisations and educational institutions, to offering quality work experience, internships and apprenticeships.
Second, businesses need to inspire young people about the full spectrum of job opportunities on offer within the digital economy. After all, a job in technology doesn’t have to be limited to the IT sector – it can be in industries as varied as fashion, film and sport. We need a collaborative effort, working with schools and parents, to better signpost these digital career opportunities to young people.
There are other areas where business can have a positive impact – notably in helping to improve digital skills among all age groups. But if we don’t see companies and politicians taking action to inspire and mobilise young people, we risk alienating an entire generation, and missing out on skills and talent that can help secure the UK’s economic future.