Youth unemployment and dismissal bring government under fire

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Two issues have dominated the Forum’s thinking this week: youth unemployment and government proposals for no-fault dismissal. Combined, the two issues have seen the Government drawing fire from all directions.

Youth unemployment currently hovers around one million, certainly a lower percentage than comparable economies in the EU, but nevertheless a significant figure allowing newspapers and opposition MPs to launch missiles at ‘failing’ employment programmes such as the recently announced Youth Contract.

Meanwhile proposals for a form of ‘compensated no fault dismissal’ – easing the ability for businesses to remove staff – have received huge negative publicity, not just from trade unions but more importantly from within the Coalition government itself, as senior Liberal Democrats continue to break cover and fire the odd volley in the Cabinet’s direction.

So how can the Government fight back? And can policy in one area help the other?

Let’s take youth unemployment first. This needs to be tackled by those seeking employment, businesses and the Government.

The recent and long-term young unemployed must continue to show resolve and seek what opportunities there are out there. This is why recent coverage of the Jubilee work experience students is so unfortunate.

Whilst a one-off incident, it has garnered significant negative press coverage, amidst which we lost sight of how valuable work experience is – it seems one man’s ‘character building’ is another’s ’slave labour.’ We would almost guarantee that those people who undertook the day’s work despite the setbacks of an early drop off, poor weather and difficult conditions will be the stronger for it in the job market.

Work experience is vital, whatever the conditions, and whilst we must all work to make it as enjoyable as possible, we shouldn’t shy away from the fact that work is – for the most part – hard.

Businesses themselves have a role to play too. An increasing array of opportunities exists for business people to get into schools – Inspiring the Future for example – and many of the Forum’s members offer exciting placements for young people. We have to try and broaden this out further and we are working with Government around the area of work experience to achieve this.

Government too has a crucial role. It can widen existing employment incentive schemes (it remains a huge disappointment that most government incentive in employment is directed at start-ups or the self-employed), it can deregulate (the Default Retirement Age abolition has done the opposite of stimulating the youth employment sector) and it can reinvigorate vocational routes too. Finally, it can de-risk employment in the first place. This is where there is some crossover with proposals for compensated no fault dismissal. By introducing this – or a similar – policy, the Government is sending an important message to businesses – that it is on their side.

Not everyone will like the fact staff are easier to dismiss, but then not everyone creates the jobs in this country. You solve youth unemployment by encouraging businesses to recruit. You encourage businesses to recruit by de-risking the process. It’s a more honourable government that stands up to its detractors than retreats into the bunker.