Tuesday, 3 July 2012

16-24 year olds: A bipolar education and employment system

by Mark Corney

For 16 and 17 year olds, the main goal of our education and employment system is supporting full-time further education rather than creating full-time jobs.

Jobs with apprenticeships, part time education and employer training cater for an ever smaller proportion of 16 to 17 year olds.

The problem is participation in full time education has dipped at 16 and flat-lined at 17. 

A fall in participation at 17 can be expected - as 16 year olds who become 17 next year will not get EMAs then either - and this is before the major cuts to 16-19 child benefit and child tax credit come on stream.

By comparison, the main objective of our education and employment system for 18 to 24 year olds is to create jobs with a living wage rather than supporting more and more full-time students. 

The problem is another 28,000 18 to 24 year olds outside of further education lost their jobs last quarter with over 80,000 doing so in the past nine months.

But this fall in jobs for 18 to 24 year olds outside of full time education is coinciding with an increase in participation in full-time education.

At 18, participation in full-time education, unlike 16 to 17, actually increased. Yet, it is participation in full time higher education that is increasing, up from 24.7% to 26.5%. Participation in full-time FE at 18 like 16 and 17 is falling.

In addition, between February and April 2012, an extra 38,000 18 to 24 year olds in full time education, most of who are in higher education, got term-time jobs.

So we are seeing a greater proportion of 18 year going into full time HE and of those already there they are getting jobs.

With their maintenance loans and grants guaranteed, full-time HE students can top up their income through short-term part-time jobs.

This is a good time for young people to be outside of the full-time career job market.

16 to 24 maintenance policy is creating a bi-polar education and employment system.

Cuts in post-16 child benefit, child tax credits and EMAs will not prevent middle income families supporting their 16 to 17 year olds staying on at school or college from getting A levels. In turn, A level students are well placed to gain the decreasing number of 'Saturday' jobs.

But most importantly of all they go onto full time university and get their maintenance grants and loans. And they are then accessing the jobs the economy is creating, namely part time temporary jobs to top up their income.

By comparison, poorer families are struggling to support their 16 to 17 year olds  from staying-on.

With no jobs at 16 and 17, these teenagers enter adulthood hoping that jobs which they can at least live off will be available only to find that only part time jobs are on offer.

And these jobs are being taken by the gilded 30% at full-time university.

If we do not create a level playing field for our young people we will have a bipolar generation of 18 to 24 year olds.

Mark Corney is policy adviser to the Campaign. He writes in a personal capacity.

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