Young Person's Guarantee - employment and education landscape: current evidence - overview

This evidence paper provides an overview of the current evidence on the employment and education landscape for young people aged 16 to 24 in Scotland, with equalities and Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) breakdowns provided where possible.

Executive summary

The Young Person's Guarantee was introduced in November 2020 in response to challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. The ambition of the Guarantee is that "every person aged between 16 and 24 in Scotland has the opportunity, depending on their circumstances, to study; take up an apprenticeship, job or work experience; or participate in formal volunteering."

This paper looks to provide an overview of the current evidence on the employment and education landscape for young people aged 16 to 24 in Scotland, with equalities and Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) breakdowns provided where possible.

Participation in Education, Employment or Training

Based on current evidence, young people's participation in education, employment or training has been on the rise for several years. However, data shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact with Annual Population Survey (APS) data on 16 to 24 year olds indicating a fall in the proportion of those participating in education, employment or training in the first full year of the pandemic (April 2020-March 2021). Annual Participation Measure (APM) data for those aged 16 to 19, on the other hand, while not showing a fall in the overall participation rate, indicates a change in participation activity, with more young people participating in education and less in employment.

Looking at equalities, participation rates for young women are currently higher than for young men, with women particularly more likely to participate in education. This is the same for those identifying as minority ethnic. Those with a self-declared disability, on the other hand, have a lower participation rate, as do those who come from more deprived areas, compared to their counterparts.

Employment, Fair Work and Skills

Annual Population Survey data shows that the pandemic has had an impact on employment and unemployment rates for 16 to 24 year olds in Scotland, with the unemployment rate having increased from 8.9% in 2019/20 to 12.5% in 2020/21 (April-March datasets) which represents a statistically significant increase over the year. While young people account for 11.3% of the total workforce in Scotland, they make up a much higher proportion in sectors such as Accommodation and Food Services; Wholesale and Retail; and Arts, Entertainment and Recreation which have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Young people are also less likely to be in contractually secure employment, and more likely to earn less than the real Living Wage than older age groups.

In terms of gender, APS data shows a small employment rate gap between men and women aged 16 to 24, with women having a higher employment rate, however, young women are less likely to be in contractually secure employment. Similarly, while the gender pay gap is currently negative (i.e. women earn more than men) for young people, data suggest that gender pay gap issues start to present themselves from age 25 onward. This will be partly impacted by subject choices typically made in senior phase, further and higher education and apprenticeships; workplace practices including the "motherhood penalty"; and occupations being low paid because of the way skills and values are socially constructed which can mean that certain types of work generally undertaken by women is undervalued.

Data for other equality groups presents more obvious gaps, with the employment rate for young people with a disability considerably lower and unemployment rate considerably higher than for non-disabled young people. Similarly, while employment estimates for young people by ethnicity are not presented in this paper as the data for young people is not as reliable as for other age groups, UK level studies suggest considerable employment gaps between those from a minority ethnic background compared to those who are white.

School Leavers

School leaver destinations data suggests that there may be more pupils staying in school for longer, and more leavers are also moving onto Further (FE) and Higher Education (HE), with less leavers going into employment compared to previous years.

Equalities data on school leavers indicates that women are more likely to reach a positive destination than men, and those from a minority ethnic background more likely to reach a positive destination than those who are white. On the other hand, those with Additional Support Needs, those who come from more deprived areas and looked after children are less likely to be in positive destination after leaving school.


Scottish Funding Council (SFC) data on colleges suggests an overall fall in the number of 16 to 24 year old enrolments across both FE and HE courses in the past five years to 2019/20. Male students tend to dominate college enrolments, particularly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) related courses. Similarly, there are more enrolments from the 20% most deprived areas than from the 20% least deprived areas in college. The share of enrolments for those with a self-declared disability as well as those identifying as minority ethnic have increased over the past five years, as have enrolments for those who are care experienced.

Students completing HE college courses tend to have a higher successful completion rate than those completing FE courses. Female students are more likely to successfully complete HE courses than male students. This is reverse for FE. Looking at other equality groups, those with a self-declared disability, those identified as minority ethnic and those from the most deprived areas in Scotland are all less likely to successfully complete their college courses than their counterparts. Successful completion rates are considerably lower for those who are care experienced, compared to any other group.

Looking at college leaver destinations data, HE leavers are more likely to go into a positive destination compared to FE leavers. FE leavers who are from the most deprived areas, leavers with a self-declared disability and leavers with care experience were least likely to go into a positive destinations compared to their counterparts in 2019/20. Differences between different equality groups were smaller for HE leavers.


Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data shows that Scottish universities have seen an increase in 16 to 24 year old enrolments in the five years to 2019/20, and UCAS data indicates a further increase, particularly in Scottish domiciled First degree entrants to university, in 2020/21 and 2021/22, likely influenced by the pandemic.

Female enrolments are higher for this age group overall, although women are less likely than men to be enrolled in Science based subjects. There has been an increase in the share of both disabled and minority ethnic enrolments. Similarly, the share of enrolments from 20% most deprived areas has increased, although there continues to be a considerably larger share of university enrolment from the least deprived areas.

In terms of destinations after leaving university, based on 2018/19 leaver cohort, around two-thirds of university leavers tend to be in employment 15 months after graduation, with a further one-fifth in further study or further study and employment. Around 6% of university leavers are unemployed. Looking at level of study, Postgraduate (Taught) leavers are most likely to be in employment, while Postgraduate (Research) leavers are most likely to enter further study. They are also least likely to end up unemployed.


Skills Development Scotland (SDS) data on apprenticeships shows that Foundation (FA), Modern (MA) and Graduate (GA) Apprenticeships (with the exception of pilot FAs) all saw a decrease in the number starts aged 16 to 24 between 2019/20 and 2020/21. Although the fall in the number of starts is likely to be partially due to the pandemic, the percentage of Modern and Graduate apprentices aged 16 to 24 of total starts has been decreasing for several years.

Looking at equalities, the female share of MA and GA starts is lower than the male share. On the other hand, the share of female FA starts is higher than the male share. The share of starts with a self-declared disability is considerably higher in MAs and FAs than in GAs. However, there is a considerably higher proportion of GA starts identifying as minority ethnic than in MAs or FAs. The share of starts identifying as care experienced remains low in all apprenticeship types.

MA achievement rate has remained relatively steady for the past several years for the total 16 to 24 year old cohort. Looking at equalities, MAs who identify as disabled and those who are care experienced have considerably lower achievement rates than any other group.

Employer Perspective

The Employer Perspectives Survey (EPS) data tells us that when young people are recruited, they are most likely to be recruited by large employers and to lower level roles, although this varies by sector.

In 2019, 30% of employers said they had recruited directly from education. This is a reduction from previous years and largely due to a reduction in recruitment directly from university. However, the percentage of employers offering apprenticeships or having apprentices has shown gradual signs of increasing.



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