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Jonathan Walker's Column for The Journal

 

​In normal times I would write a column around now talking about the great career options open to young people in the North East leaving education this summer.

But as we all know, these are not normal times.

Many of those options remain open and there are some great jobs out there for those starting their careers. But there is no hiding from the fact that there are going to be far fewer job openings available in the coming months.

The official data is yet to show the full extent of the damage Covid-19 has done to our labour market, but as the weeks progress and as the furlough scheme comes to an end, we must be braced for bad news.

Our experiences of the last major recession tell us that young people frequently bear the brunt of an economic slowdown. Talk of NEETs and a ‘lost generation’ is understandably resurfacing.

We’ve been giving some serious thought to the role of businesses in helping to tackle this problem. It’s not going to be easy; large numbers of firms are simply not in a position to recruit or train when their very existence is under threat.

There are particular aspects to this crisis that are likely to exacerbate the issue. Last week our members heard some startling evidence from the Resolution Foundation which showed that one in three 18-24 year olds have been furloughed or lost their job during the pandemic, with redundancies higher among young people than any other age group.

This isn’t surprising. Many of us got our first start in the sectors that bore the brunt of the shutdown. Our shops, pubs and restaurants will face restrictions for some time to come.

We should look beyond the data to see the potential impact of this. As we saw a decade ago, there is a risk of a cohort of young people becoming disengaged from employment, education and training.

Not only does this damage their long-term career prospects, with it come the dangers of physical and mental health issues, debt and inequality.

We must not accept this as an inevitable consequence of this crisis. Government needs to make good on its promise to support opportunities for this age group.

Businesses, where possible, should not see training and early-career recruitment as an easy cutback but as an investment in their own, and the region’s, recovery.