The employment landscape for young people in the UK

Challenges and opportunities

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by Mark Gregory, EY Chief Economist, UKI

Voting in the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU exposed a number of fault-lines in UK society, with voting patterns varying markedly by age, level of education, geography and economic prospects.

In general, young people voted for the UK to stay in the EU: according to polls published by Lord Ashcroft, 73% of 18-24 year-olds voted Remain, falling to 62% among 25-34 year-olds. In contrast, a majority of those aged over 45 voted Leave, rising to 60% of those aged 65 or over.

These figures suggest that, following the vote to leave the EU, the younger demographic groups are going to be watching particularly closely how events unfold. In the statement announcing her acceptance of the Queen’s invitation to form a new government, the incoming Prime Minister, Theresa May, commented:

“The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours… When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few. We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.”

Given this commitment, it’s all the more important that the Government – and the UK economy – create and foster the right conditions for young people to flourish in work, regardless of their background or circumstances.

In the run-up to the referendum, EY, in association with the EY Foundation, decided to commission Oxford Economics to undertake research into the employment prospects facing young people in the UK. EY and the EY Foundation share a common belief that all young people, regardless of their background or circumstances, should have an opportunity to realise their career ambitions and make a successful transition into work through a variety of pathways. Our aim in initiating this study was to understand the employment landscape for young people in the UK today, the challenges and the opportunities. By doing so we can collaborate with UK employers to drive change that will create action to improve young people’s skills and working prospects.

Mark Gregory commented:

"Youth unemployment rates have fallen from the peaks we saw during the recession, when 40% of the UK’s 16-17 year olds were facing unemployment. However, a stubbornly high number of young people remain excluded from the labour market, which could be further exacerbated by a period of weaker economic growth in these uncertain times ahead. History has shown us that young people are more exposed to economic volatility and industry restructuring than the population as a whole."

"The skills agenda is fast becoming one of the biggest priorities for UK business, with Brexit also likely to impose some restrictions to the free movement of labour in the future. It has never been more important to ensure the UK has the right mix of skills and talent, both nationally and locally, and young people are core to this."


by Maryanne Matthews
Chief Executive, EY Foundation

Maturing workforces, demands for new skills in a knowledge economy and a forecast growth in highskilled jobs over the next few years means that the need for employers to diversify talent has become a business imperative.

Flexible and dynamic businesses rely on continuously attracting new skills and experience and yet youth unemployment remains a significant problem in the UK, particularly in certain towns and cities, such as Middlesbrough, Swansea, Wolverhampton and Bradford.

The unemployment rate for young people is at least double that of the rest of the population (28.7% of 16-17 year olds and 11.6% for 18-24 year olds compared to 4.9% of all people over 16). And there has been a 130% ris e (since 2011) in unfilled job vacancies, due to what employers see as a major skills shortage.

What is clear is that we face a two-sided problem in the UK today. Young people, particularly from disadvantaged groups, are not getting access to the work experiences and skills training they need to transition into jobs and successful careers.

And employers are missing out on the opportunity to work with and employ local talented young people either because they are not recruiting from a diverse enough talent pool and/or because they perceive that young people do not have the skills required for entry-level roles.

At the EY Foundation we work with young people from disadvantaged groups to make them employer ready and we also help employers become young people ready. We do this by offering skills training, work experience and mentoring through our programmes, which are accredited by the Chartered Management Institute, helping young people to develop the skills they need to succeed in the work place.

The EY Foundation works with an increasing number of UK employers and corporate partners who share our vision of giving all young people access to opportunities, regardless of background.

It is an economic imperative that UK employers open their doors and invest in developing the skills of young people. The more employers that play an active role in developing young people, the more we can help young people to get a great start to their working lives – now and in the future.


EY - Mark Gregory

Mark Gregory

EY Chief Economist

EY - Maryanne Matthews

Maryanne Matthews

Chief Executive, EY Foundation