No snakes, but no ladders: Young people, employment, and the low skills trap at the bottom of the contemporary service economy
Steven Roberts: 27th March 2012
In recent years, research and policy activity has primarily been concerned with the numbers, experiences and trajectories of apprentices and university students, or with the lives of ‘spectacular’, more obviously economically marginalised groups of young people who are entrenched in issues of social exclusion and deprivation. Many young people with level two and level three qualifications, however, directly enter the labour market. This sizeable but unspectacular group remains overlooked by policymakers as well as researchers. These young people undertake new forms of employment in an increasingly polarized job market, rely on on-the-job training rather than higher education to enhance their human capital and compete more and more with graduates who cannot find jobs to match their own newly acquired high skill levels.
The net result is that this middling group ends up becoming trapped, with limited chances of progression, for example in the retail sector where 31 percent of employees are aged 16 to 24. The ongoing policy focus on level 2 qualifications does not serve these young people well. Policy-makers use qualification levels as a proxy for skills, but disregard the negative returns and by extension the lack of genuine progression as a result of obtaining such qualifications. Achieving a qualification – any qualification – it seems has become a proxy measure of successful outcomes over and above what people actually do in their jobs, what they are actually paid, what they can afford, or whether they have genuinely improved their capacity to be more productive. Greater employee engagement in company training and development programmes can better align business needs with individual needs for progression. At the policy level, skills policy needs to place greater emphasis on whether achieving a qualification enables employees to perform better and progress.
‘No snakes, but no ladders’: Young people, employment, and the low skills trap at the bottom of the contemporary service
27 March 2012
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