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Young People Furthest From The Labour Market


A large number of young people struggle to make the transition from school to further education or the workplace. Around 33,000 16 to 19 year olds in Scotland were not in employment, education or training in 2012, representing 13% of the population within that age bracket. In Scotland these young people are called the More Choices More Chances (MCMC) group. Within this broad group there are a range of 'sub-groups' and people in the subgroups are themselves not homogeneous. These include:

  • Young care leavers.
  • Young people suffering from family disadvantage and poverty.
  • Substance misusers.
  • Young offenders.
  • Young people with Additional Support Needs and educational disaffection.

Being disengaged from learning or training significantly affects a person's future earnings and employment prospects, as well as their wellbeing, and there are costs for society as a whole. Supporting young people to make successful transitions after compulsory education is therefore crucial.

Barriers Faced

These young people have a wide range of backgrounds and characteristics. For many, not being in learning or training for a short period is a normal part of transition, but for others there are significant barriers to participating which cause them to be disengaged for prolonged periods, including:

  • Low educational attainment.
  • Lack of work experience and life experience in general.
  • Behavioural or mental health problems.
  • Employer perceptions that young people are unreliable.
  • Being a teenage parent.
  • Lack of support from family and friends.

Whilst this group of young people are far from being homogenous, the above factors are common across the group.

Policies and Interventions

Currently in the UK, the Department for Work and Pensions provides enhanced support for young unemployed people through Job Centre Plus and the Work Programme. Jobcentre Plus has specialist Advisers who deal with 16-17 year olds claiming Jobseekers Allowance. Young people aged 18-24 years old have priority access to the Work Programme after nine months and the most disadvantaged young people are able to enter the Programme after three months of unemployment. Early entry has been extended to include any young people who are 18 years old and who made a claim for Jobseeker's Allowance while they were 16 or 17 years old.

Running over three years from April 2012, the Youth Contract programme provides funding for wage incentive payments of up to £2,275 to employers when they recruit an 18 to 24 year old from the Work Programme. Eligibility has since been extended to all 18-24 year olds who have been claiming for six months.

At the Scotland level, the Scottish Government is keen to enable all young people to access, progress and stay in learning longer to equip them with the skills for learning, life and work in order to improve their long term employability. The national performance indicator on 'increasing the proportion of young people in learning, training or work', and the youth employment and skills strategies both reflect this aim.

The youth employment and skills strategy, Action for Jobs: Supporting Young Scots into Work, is the key strategy to address youth unemployment in Scotland. It aims to provide, coordinate and support as many youth opportunities as possible in order to help more of Scotland's young people into the workplace. The strategy is built upon three main themes:

  • Adopting an all-Government, all-Scotland approach to supporting youth employment.
  • Enhancing support for young people.
  • Engaging with employers.

The Scottish Government introduced Opportunities for All in September 2011 in response to the economic downturn and its adverse impact on young people in the labour market. It is an explicit commitment to an offer of a place in learning or training to every 16-19 year old who is not in employment, education or training and builds on the planning for transition beyond the compulsory school leaving age to ensure an offer of an appropriate place in post-16 learning for every 16-19 year old. As well as staying on at school or starting a college or university course, other options include:

  • Activity Agreements - written arrangements between young people and Activity Agreement Coaches that set out a tailored package of activity, learning and support to prepare them for formal learning or employment. 
  • Certificate of Work Readiness - programme for 16-19 year olds who have not yet experienced the world of work that provides a unique employer assessed "real life" work experience placement and a meaningful qualification that employers can recognise and trust.
  • Community Jobs Scotland - partnership between the Scottish Government and SCVO that creates work opportunities for young unemployed individuals within a wide range of third sector organisations across Scotland.
  • Modern Apprenticeships - a structured programme lasting up to 4 years designed to develop the skills and competencies needed to perform a job well. Apprenticeships are based at their place of work most of the time, with off-the-job training delivered to achieve the agreed outcomes and qualification set out by the employer.

To encourage and support employers to recruit young people, there are also the following initiatives in place:

More widely, reforms to the post-16 education system in Scotland aim to put learners, especially young learners, and employers at the heart of the system to promote a sustainable post-16 education system that improves people's life chances and meets the needs of employers and Scotland's economy.

Early intervention is crucial in preventing unemployment among young people. Evidence suggests that factors such as the quality of a child's home learning environment and their family relationships have a strong and direct impact on their later life chances and that children/young people growing up in poverty are more vulnerable to a range of negative outcomes than children from affluent families. It is therefore important to identify those at risk of exclusion early and provide the support needed to improve their situation. Policies in Scotland that are focused on early intervention include:

  • Getting it Right for Every Child which aims to ensure that anyone providing support for children and young people puts the child or young person - and their family - at the centre. It highlights the importance of partnership work between practitioners across different organisations and early intervention in the issues affecting children and young people. 
  • The Early Years Framework launched by the Scottish Government and COSLA in 2008 which aims to give all children the best possible start in life in order to improve their life chances in future. It covers children from pre-birth to 8.

Evidence on good practice suggests that providing work experience for young people and reducing the length of time that young people spend being unemployed can help improve their chances within the labour market. Specific interventions for young people can take form of:

  • A strong apprenticeship system with large companies involved.
  • Early intervention with active labour market polices to reduce the length of time spent disengaged. 
  • Ensuring the availability of part time flexible employment (which can act as stepping stones to permanent full-time contracts and help young people gain work experience, acquire skills and build social networks).

Policy in the UK also now recognises that enabling young people to stay in learning beyond compulsory education is a good way of improving their long term employability.



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