Youth unemployment: jobs for the boys and education for the girls?

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  • Scotland's youth unemployment has been falling sharply over the past four years, but it's not been accompanied by a rapid rise in youth employment.
  • The number of people in part-time or temporary work who want to go permanent has fallen, as the labour market tightens.

High employment, low unemployment: Scotland may have lost some ground from the record levels of both achieved in the past couple of years, but the headline job numbers remain very strong, by any historical standards.

Job creation isn't as strong as it has been in England. But that is partly down to immigration. High mobility of workers into the south and south-east of England makes a job creation motor, and it's been purring along for years, even while the economy as a whole remains weak and on emergency monetary measures.

While Scotland is at or close to the UK figures for employment and unemployment, one figure that Scottish ministers like to highlight is the relatively low level of youth unemployment.

That is an area where they have been able to have some impact through policy. And judging by the past four years, the results have been striking.

Youth unemployment was, you'll recall, the element that should cause most concern for the long-term. The evidence from past recessions is that young people who are struggling to get into a job are likely to be suffering the consequences throughout their lives. It's not easy to catch up.

And disaffected youth are not something that's much good for society, law and order.

In Scotland, 9.3% of young people aged between 16 and 24 counted as unemployed and seeking work between April last year and March 2018.

Across the EU, that youth unemployment rate is over 15%. In Greece, it is 45%, Spain 34% and Italy 33%.

Working

So whatever you think of the economy, it could be a lot worse.

How, though, has youth unemployment been faring over the past few years. The Office for National Statistics shows quite a dramatic drop from 65,000 in April 2014 to March 15, or a rate of 16.4%.

It dropped in the following years to 60,000, then 38,000 and in the most recent figures, 35,000.

Strip out some of the anomalies you get from 16 and 17-year-olds and the drop was even sharper, from 52,000 four years ago for those aged 18 to 24, down to 23,000 in the year to March. That's more than halving the rate, from 14.5% to 7%.

But don't think that means they're all getting jobs. They're not. The employment level for the age group has only edged up. Take the 16 to 24-year-old group between 2014-15 and 201-18, and you find employment rising from 333,000 to 340,000. (I've done some rounding of numbers.)

There's a clear difference in the figures for young men - up by 15,000 - with young women, down by 7,000.

It seems that the education and training system is working best for young women at the margins of work, while young men who might otherwise be unemployed fit more readily into the apprenticeship model of employment.

Learning

If the lower unemployment isn't due to higher employment, then the explanation is sure to be education and training.

The ONS figures show us that, over the four years, the number of full-time students of all ages - at least the way they're counted in the labour market survey - fell to 191,000 in 2015-16, and has since risen to 205,000.

The number of male full-time students has fallen slightly, while the number of female full-time students (this, remember, is for all age groups) is up 15,000.

Yearning

While we're looking at that number, have a look at the number of people who are not active in the labour market because they're looking after home or family - young or old. Four years ago, that was 160,000 Scots. It's now around 141,000. Of them, more than one in 10 is male.

One final thought about unemployment, and it ought to be a pleasing one. Not only is the headline unemployment rate still very low, but two other indicators are improving.

One is for the proportion of people who tell the people carrying the Labour Market Survey that they are not economically active, but would like a job. That has edged down over four years from 24% to 22.1%. A couple of steps in the right direction.

Of 133,000 temporary workers in 2014-15, 48,000 wanted a permanent role. The number of temps has gone up by 7000, yet the number who would prefer something permanent has dropped to 38,000.

And for those who are in part-time work, but wanting a full-time role, there's a similar story. Of 685,000 in that position in 2014-15, 109,000 wanted to go full time. Of 697,000 recently, 97,000 were there because nothing permanent has come up.

That's still hugely frustrating for a lot of individuals and their families who don't have the jobs they want or for which they are best suited. But overall, these are positive moves for the labour market.

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