United Kingdom

Disadvantaged youth in Britain need better skills and effective job-search help


09/07/2008 - Young people in Britain who leave school without qualifications find it particularly hard to get jobs, and U.K. authorities need to take vigorous action to help them with education and training and with job-search support, according to a new OECD publication.

Reversing a trend in the late 1990s and early 2000s when unemployment among 16 to 24 year olds was falling, job prospects for this age group have worsened in recent years at a time when the OECD average youth unemployment rate was falling. In 2007, the unemployment rate of 16 to 24 year olds was 14.4% in Britain, up from 11% in 2002 (see Table A), according to figures in the OECD report Jobs for Youth: United Kingdom. Driven by the poor job prospects facing many teenagers, employment rates among 16 to 24 year olds fell to 55.9% in 2007 from 60.9% in 2002.

Low-skilled youth labour market performance below OECD average

Highly qualified young people fare better on the labour market in Britain than do their counterparts in many other OECD countries. But low-skilled 16 to 24 year olds in the United Kingdom perform below the OECD average, the OECD report makes clear. In 2005, the ratio of low skilled to high skilled youth unemployment rates stood at almost five to one, the second highest in the OECD.

A lack of qualifications makes it hard to get a firm foothold in the labour market. In 2005, one year after leaving education, only 45% of young people who left school without an upper secondary qualification – A levels or five good GCSEs or the vocational equivalent – were employed compared with 67% of their higher-qualified counterparts. In the same year, 20% of young people without an upper secondary qualification were neither in employment nor in education or training, more than twice the share among their more educated counterparts.

Recent reforms are responding to the challenge but more needs to be done

U.K. authorities are responding to these challenges with specific actions. In England, an Education and Skills Bill now before Parliament would require young people to participate in education and training until they obtain a qualification (A levels or equivalent) or turn 18.

This new regime will be fully operational in 2015, when teenagers will be able to choose among a range of learning options including 17 new Diplomas – composite qualifications combining theoretical and practical learning – and an apprenticeship entitlement. In the meantime, starting in October 2009, long term job-seekers aged 18 to 24 will be referred to the Flexible New Deal – a new activation programme with a more flexible and personalised approach for disadvantaged individuals. The OECD report concludes that these reforms are heading in the right direction.

However, the OECD recommends fine-tuning of these reforms and additional measures for a more effective and coherent strategy:

• Increase participation in quality early childhood education and care and ensure that the benefits of pre-school interventions are sustained during the transition into primary education.

• Set a limit of three months for 16 to 17 year-old job-seekers looking to continue and combine work with part-time learning after quitting or being fired by their employer. After these three months, they should be required to return to education and training full time.

• Simplify England’s framework of academic and vocational qualifications by making the new Diplomas a first step towards the creation of a single overarching qualification.

• Fight gender segregation in apprenticeships and improve participation of youth from ethnic minorities.

• Use better selection, higher-quality off-the-job training and mentoring and supervision to get more young people successfully through apprenticeship schemes.

• Ensure more involvement of unions in the design and implementation of apprenticeships and other work-based learning initiatives.

• Adopt a longer definition of a sustainable employment outcome – at least 26 weeks  instead of the current 13 weeks – in the Flexible New Deal and tie part of providers’ remuneration to achieving these longer employment outcomes.

•  Envisage a residential programme with a strong focus on remedial education, work experience and adult mentoring to provide intensive support for the hardest-to-place youth.


Jobs for Youth: United Kingdom
is the latest in a series of OECD reports on youth employment policies that now covers sixteen countries. The report is available online to subscribers and accredited journalists via SourceOECD, the OECD online library.

For comment on the report, journalists are invited to contact Glenda Quintini in the OECD’s Employment Analysis and Policy Division on +33 1 4524 9194 or

For more information on the Jobs for Youth project, see


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