The Regional Complexity of Youth

Understanding the different generations in the workplace today is fast becoming a top priority for UK employers, especially now there are as many as four different generations working alongside each other. Studies like our own Project Gen Up are making great strides towards understanding the multi-generational workplace, but recent research from accountants EY reminds us not to forget that each generation can be complex in itself.

EY found that young people have hugely contrasting economic fortunes and experiences of the labour market, depending where they live, with youth unemployment rates contrasting greatly from region to region. Youth unemployment ranges from 18.3 per cent in North-East England to 11.2 per cent in the East of England. While more than quarter of 16 to 24 year olds in Bradford, Middlesbrough, Swansea and Wolverhampton are unemployed, just 8.2 per cent of young people in Coventry (only an hour’s drive from Wolverhampton) are unemployed.

“Youth unemployment rates have fallen from the peaks we saw during the recession,” says EY’s chief economist Mark Gregory. “However, a stubbornly high number of young people remain excluded from the labour market.”

Youth unemployment is subject to far more regional variation than the overall rate of employment, which makes it a generational issue. For instance, young people in the East Midlands find it significantly harder to find work than their older peers. In Leicester, young people find it particularly tough with the youth unemployment rate there being more than double the average for all workers at 23.6 per cent.

This report from EY reminds us that each generation is complex and multifaceted. Widely contrasting economic fortunes and experiences almost certainly means that within the younger generation there are varying skills and skills gaps, levels of experience, levels of morale and engagement depending where they live.

If anything the differences in fortunes within the younger generations are predicted to grow as we enter a period of economic uncertainty following Brexit.  Mark Gregory argues that a period of weaker economic growth may well exacerbate the situation: “History has shown us that young people are more exposed to economic volatility and industry restructuring than the population as a whole.”

While recognising the common thread of priorities and expectations that define each generation is important, we must not lose sight of the differences that exist within each and fall into the trap of generalising too much and losing the nuance that is required.

The generations are complex and that complexity requires a sophisticated and differentiated approach to attraction and engagement. The younger generation, with its widely contrasting experiences of the labour market, has a particularly strong and compelling need for a tailored employment package.

High levels of youth unemployment in certain parts of the country have caused significant levels of debt and feelings of anxiety and social isolation amongst some sections of the under 25s. Research by National Debtline called Borrowed Years, reveals that 37 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds are in debt, owing on average just under £3,000, excluding student loans or mortgages. Added to this, The Prince’s Trust has found that 40 per cent of jobless young people are experiencing mental health problems including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks as a direct result of unemployment. Unfortunately, acute prolonged anxiety of this nature does not disappear the minute a job is found – for many young people the anxiety and lack of confidence lingers long after they join the workforce.

“Unemployment is proven to cause devastating, long-lasting mental health problems among young people. Thousands wake up every day believing that life isn’t worth living, after struggling for years in the dole queue”, says Martina Milburn, chief executive of youth charity The Prince’s Trust.

It’s imperative employers respond to the regional complexity of the younger generation and all its associated challenges. There are several things employers could do. Employers could:

  • Include as part of the remuneration package, short term interest free loans to help young people pay off their debts
  • Reach out to young candidates with taster days
    • These could really appeal to young candidates who lack confidence and feel they have hurdles to overcome
    • An opportunity for young candidates to engage with candidates from a similar background
  • Encourage young candidates to share, link, chat with similar candidates – this will speak to those who have been suffering from feelings of social isolation
  • When recruiting focus on attributes rather than technical skills to avoid missing out on high potential but currently inexperienced young candidates
  • Showcase the employee wellbeing programme in recruitment communication – could really appeal to young candidates suffering with anxiety
  • Open up apprenticeships to include not just recent graduates and school leavers

The most important thing for employers is to continue to understand the different generations but not over simplify them. For the younger generation recognising their regional complexity is key. Failure to adequately segment and differentiate the employment package to reflect the complexity and nuances of each generation is a recipe for mediocrity.