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David Taylor: A two-way conversation - making sure youth employment works for all

Tuesday 24 November 2015

David Taylor, Senior Policy Analyst at Acas, discusses youth employment and what needs to be done to make their voices heard.

David Taylor

David Taylor

David is a Senior Policy Analyst in the Strategy Unit at Acas.

As this year's annual Youth Employment Convention kicks off, the good news is that the number of young people out of work is continuing slowly to fall. But with more young people now entering work, are we listening enough to what they want once they arrive there?

Much of the debate around youth employment in recent years has, with good reason, been focused on pre-employment education, careers information, and improving transitions into work. A lot remains to be done on this front and there should be no room for complacency. As Inclusion, the organisers of today's Convention, point out, young people are more likely than other age groups to be employed on non-standard employment contracts, in insecure and part-time work, and in jobs without access to training. And the role of education in helping young people become 'work ready' remains a recurring theme whenever it is asked what employers want from young people.

But what about what young people themselves have to say? The legacy report from last year's Convention included valuable insights on young people's perspectives on education, employability and skills issues. Notably, it highlighted that young people want their voice heard more by politicians - they want a say in forming and shaping youth employment policies. When it comes to what young people want from employers inside the workplace, however, a review of research pdf icon Young people entering work: A review of the research [378kb] published by Acas in 2012 found that there was "surprisingly little" evidence around.

Since then, new Acas research pdf icon Young people's views and experiences on entering the workplace [371kb] - including focus groups with young people and analysis of national survey data pdf icon Young people's experiences in the workplace [689kb] - has confirmed that we need a better appreciation of what matters to inexperienced workers when they arrive in the workplace. A joint guide pdf icon Managing Future Talent - A guide for employers [1Mb] by Acas, the CIPD and unionlearn provides some much-needed pointers in this direction, but wider awareness of guidance like this will be important as the number of employers taking on young workers increases.

Beyond providing appropriate support for novice workers, there are other important questions, too, which can only be answered by listening to young people's experiences of the workplace. When it comes to effective employee voice, for example, what are the preferences and expectations of a generation that has grown up with social media and interconnectivity as an everyday 'given'? And what might fresh viewpoints tell us about the limitations of our traditional organisational structures, and of possibilities for new ways of working that could unleash greater innovation and drive up productivity?

The annual Youth Employment Convention has become an important date in the calendar. In future years, let's hope the point is reached where the focus can be young people's ideas on developing the workplace, as much as debates on improving their transitions into work. When that happens, let's make sure we're ready to listen and to act on what they have to say.

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