A report published today (23 May 2012) by The Work Foundation and Private Equity Foundation reveals that the past decade has seen a major rise in young people aged 16–24 who are either unable, or taking longer, to make the first move from education into work.

The report, which is published ahead of the Government’s latest NEET (not in education, employment or training) figures, argues that long-term changes in the skills required for first jobs have made it harder for many young people to get a foothold in the jobs market. This is likely to have been a significant factor in the growth of NEET young people since 2001.

Lost in Transition? The changing labour market and young people not in education, employment or training argues that the long-term shift from a production to service-driven economy has made soft skills increasingly important for young people seeking their first job. However, the education and training system has not adapted to reflect these changes, while employers often expect employees to be job-ready from day one. This leaves a growing number to ‘fall through the gaps’, struggling to make the first and most difficult step into sustained employment.

In England, nearly half of NEETs now have no experience of sustained paid employment beyond casual and holiday work. This represents over 450,000 young people who so far have been unable to make the transition from learning into employment.

Dr Paul Sissons, report author, said:

“The labour market has changed considerably over the past few decades. First jobs are now less likely to be in manufacturing and more likely to be in the service sector where skills such as communication, team working and customer service are important. For young people without the soft skills needed to access work in these growing sectors, finding employment has become increasingly difficult.”

The report urges the Government to ensure young people are provided with continuous support and follow-up whilst making their first move into employment. It raises concerns about recent changes to careers advice and guidance services which have divided responsibility for support between schools and the new careers service. This leaves potential gaps around 16-18 year olds and there is a real danger that the changes will leave some young people with insufficient and inconsistent support when they need it most. The report also stresses the need for clear pathways into the labour market for those who have already ‘fallen through the gaps’.