The scale of the overall challenge we are facing is well understood and should be considered as a national emergency, similar to the early response to Covid-19 in order to avoid a life-long impact on our young people. Evidence suggests that some are already referring to themselves as the ‘class of Covid’ and research highlights the immediate and potential long-term effects on them as individuals. Our young people are an asset to Scotland, they are not a cost or a burden, they are a vital part of the future of our country.
In the absence of further significant measures to protect jobs, the unemployment rate of 16-24-year olds in Scotland could increase to more than 20% because of the impact of COVID-19 on our economy and depending on the pace of recovery. To put this in context; following the 2008 economic crisis, the unemployment rate of 16-24-year olds in Scotland rose sharply, peaking at 21.8% in 2011. In terms of numbers, this was equivalent to 95,000 unemployed young people in Scotland and we could be facing at least, if not more, out of work today. These data points alone clearly highlight that what we do today with employment and education for young people will be insufficient to deal with the scale of the crisis, in other words, we need a scalable solution to deal with the immediate challenge but also one that is sustainable for the longer term. While there is good collaboration between all relevant parties, there is undoubtedly room for improvement and an increased commitment to working together around an agreed set of outcomes will be vital if the Young Person Guarantee is to maximise its impact. As the Higgins report called out, collaboration needs to be raised to new levels if we are to effectively deal with the employment crisis amongst our young people. A clear objective of the Young Person Guarantee must be to engage with the programme which will go a long way to ensuring greater equality, social mobility and inclusion. While the scope and focus of this work has been on 16-24-year olds, I believe that many of the principles and recommendations equally apply to other groups who find themselves unemployed because of Covid-19.
While there are a lot of good employability programmes, the current landscape could be described as being overly complex, confusing for both young people and employers. Previous research has suggested that there is £660m invested in employability in Scotland each year. While the picture will have changed since then, I believe that at this level of investment there should be a bigger positive impact for young people in Scotland even before we add in Kickstart and the additional money from the Scottish Government. Through their work on No One Left Behind, the Scottish Government and Local Authorities have been working to address these issues and this work should continue as the principles are critical to delivery of the Guarantee. In conducting this review, I have, however, recognised that trying to change the current landscape would create considerable distractions when our focus should be entirely on our young people and giving them a guarantee about their future. Within the recommendations there are a number that will, over time, start to address the core issues with the current model, sustainability is at the core of the proposals.
What has also become clear as I have conducted extensive research and stakeholder engagement is the alignment with other similar reviews, for example, the report from the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board or the Hunter Foundation response to the Higgins report. Also, there are already other recommendations that exist that would form part of the Young Person Guarantee, for example, the recently completed review and recommendations on a Volunteering programme for Scotland.
So, the scale of the response needs to be considerable and the response needs to cover a variety of areas including:
1. Stimulating the demand-side of the labour market.
2. Being truly inclusive so no one is left behind, including those who were already further from the labour market prior to the impact of Covid-19.
3. Keeping it simple for both young people and employers, this response needs to be employer led.
4. Aligning with the future economy of Scotland particularly across economic policy, education at all levels and employer requirements.
5. Ensuring good quality and fair work for all.
6. Supporting the ambition of Scotland to become a net zero economy.
7. Simplifying the current employability landscape including governance and measurement.
8. Significantly improving collaboration across key stakeholders.
9. Ensuring the right level of education for students that is better aligned to the needs of Scotland’s economy and covers all Colleges and Universities and actively embraces blended learning.
10. Engaging with the UK government and their programmes, with an aim to providing a seamless set of interventions that complement each other and where possible are free from political interference.
To develop a strategy to start to address the scale of this challenge, it is important to have a clear ambition and a supporting set of principles that underpin the recommendations. The ambition and principles detailed have been through review and refinement with a broad range of stakeholders covering all the key groups who would be involved in delivering the recommendations.
Fundamentally what is at the heart of this response is that ‘connection to work and/or education is a good thing and should always be the number one aim’. The consequences of not having young people attached to work or education are considerable and ultimately result in increased costs elsewhere in the public sector system, not to mention the wider societal impacts, for example, the impact on the mental health of our young people. The Young Person Guarantee needs to be viewed as an investment in the future of Scotland and not a cost. Work and education have so many positive direct and indirect outcomes ranging from the individual feeling valued, contributing to society, the potential to earn and enhance self-esteem and self-worth. In other words, we should do whatever it takes to keep young people connected to work and education, including addressing pre-existing inequalities faced by young people from minority ethnic backgrounds, young disabled people and young women and girls. The alternative to this would be thousands of young people being unemployed. This, with the associated direct and indirect cost to society would be catastrophic for Scotland.
Finally, the ambition and principles are deliberately very stretching, they need to be given the long- term negative impact Covid 19 will have on young people and the wider economy.
Within 2 years every 16-24 year old in Scotland will either be in paid employment for a period of between 12 and 24 months, enrolled in education, actively involved on an apprenticeship or training programme, or engaged on a formal volunteering or supported activity programme.
- We will be relentlessly focused on the young person and recognise their personal needs and situation.
- We will eradicate ‘in work’ poverty for 16-24-year olds.
- We believe young people are better paid to work than be paid to be unemployed.
- We view work as an economic and social stabiliser that helps address the inequalities in Scotland’s economy and society.
- We will work with secondary education, Universities and Colleges to ensure our young people receive the right education that is aligned with the future needs of the Scottish economy.
- In partnership between the private sector, third sector and public sector we will have a real focus on those young people for whom employment opportunities are far harder to sustain, ensuring they are not left behind and giving them every opportunity in life.
- We will leverage the totality of the DYW framework to avoid creating any new bodies to oversee the Young Person Guarantee and we will simplify the existing employability landscape.
- We will have a consistent strategy, plan and outcomes framework for Scotland, including alignment to the National Performance Framework and accept implementation is best led at an appropriate level to take account of geographic, economic and demographic differences.
- We will ensure that the Young Person Guarantee is aligned to the skills need for Scotland’s future inclusive and environmentally focused economy.
- We will ensure that the Young Person Guarantee will provide ‘real’ experience focused on building sustainable skills to enhance future employment prospects.
It is important to appreciate that the recommendations in this report aim to address both the immediate crisis but also recommend changes that will create a more sustainable, simpler and more effective employability model for our young people for years to come. In other words, the full impact of these recommendations will only be achieved if they are implemented collectively.