Sweet 17s face a sour future….

Believe it or not, I actually remember being 17 quite well – In between the bits where I generally revelled in my own wonderfulness, it mainly involved a lot of ‘misplaced youthful aspiration’ about my potential for doing great and wonderful things such as ‘travelling the world, astrally visiting other planets, joining Ashrams in India,  sticking it to the man, smashing the system and generally ushering in utopia through the sheer force of youthful enthusiasm.

Having achieved precisely none of these goals – ten years down the line I ended up with a job – teaching Sociology – part of which (the tutor bit) involves assisting today’s 17 year olds to get a job once they’ve finished with their ‘educational transition’ period.

This is somewhat ironic – firstly because the Sociology bit of my job involves telling 17 year olds how crap work actually is and how little chance they’ve got of getting a decent one, secondly because when I was 17, getting a job wasn’t exactly high on my aspiration list, and thirdly, given today’s job market, I think the average 17-18 year old might actually have more of a chance of achieving all of my original teen-dreams than gaining employment – at least if we’re talking about  formal, secure, and worthwhile employment that actually pays you enough to achieve a decent standard of living.

Now I hate to be a kill-joy (actually I love it – the more miserable I can make people, the happier I am), but I’ve got some pretty bleak news for any 17 year old looking forwards to their life after college –

For starters, for any 17-18 year old keenly looking to transition from education to work- if you look at Statistics from the department of education you discover that being 18 years of age hardly signifies the end of your education. According to the latest stats, of all 18 year old in the UK –

  • 30% were in Higher Education
  • 22% were doing some form of course or training in Further Education (FE).
  • 33% were in paid employment, with one third in jobs with training and two thirds in jobs without training 22%. 6% of training positions take the form of ‘modern apprenticeships’ and the most common area of employment for both males and female 18 year olds was ‘Wholesale and Retail Trade; Repair of Motor Vehicles and Motorcycles’
  • 15% were NEET

This effectively means that 80% of 18 year olds are currently in a state of education or welfare dependency, and only 20% are in ‘straight-up jobs’. In fact, you’ve almost got as much chance of being NEET as you have of just getting a regular job without training.

Moreover, many of the 20% who are ‘independent earners’ earn so little that this wage-independence cannot effectively be translated into any other meaningful form of independence, with 2/3rds of workers aged 18 earning the £6.00 an hour or less. According to the Youth Cohort Study (2009) which looks at what young people were doing aged 18 –

‘A total of 56% of 18 year olds were earning a wage at the time of interview either through their main activity or through part-time work to accompany full-time studies’. Wages, however, are low, with 63% of 18 year olds in employment earning £6.00 an hour or less, rising to 77% for those on Apprenticeships’ – Suggesting that many employers take advantage of the opportunity to pay young people relatively lower wages where possible.

These figures are in line with government guidance – The Current minimum wage for someone aged between 16 -17 is just £3.68, unless you’re unfortunate enough to have ‘landed’ an apprenticeship, in which case you might be earning as little as £2.60 an hour. This compares to £4.98 – the 18-20 rate, or £6.08 for the over 21s)

To put it in stark terms – if you go straight to work from college – you can expect an immediate future of several years of low wages, with the prospect of yet more work-based training until you start earning anything like a decent salary.


Life at the bottom, is of course, generally worse – and the stats seem to suggest your chances of ending up NEET increase as you get older – At the end of 2010, only 2.3 per cent of 16-year-olds, were NEET, compared to 6.8 per cent of 17-year-olds and 12.4 per cent of 18-year-olds. For most young people, being NEET is a temporary outcome as they move between different education and training options – surveys estimate that only 1 per cent of young people are NEET at ages 16, 17 and 18.

However, as you get older and your ‘educational opportunities’ dry up, the NEET figures increase dramatically, with the latest ONS data revealing that a total of 22.2%, or 1.04 million 16 to 24-year-olds were out of work in the three months to December 2011.

This excellent blog post on the Stumbling and Mumbling blog outlines some of the long term costs of youth unemployment – the starkest of which is that those who have been unemployed for more than six months before the age of 23 earned an average of 7% less than others even at the age of 42; this controls for educational qualifications.

If you can stomach three further years of studying, relative poverty and £30 000 of debt – you are much better off going to university…. You stand to earn about £600 000 more over the course of a 45 year career compared to those who stick with just A levels, and have twice as much chance of being in employment by age 24 compared to those with just GCSEs – although don’t expect to get a job immediately after graduating, as the graduate unemployment rate in the months following graduation currently stands at 25%.

Incidentally, just to depress you further, it’s worth adding that many young people’s life chances are further reduced by high housing costs according to this research by Shelter – some of the main findings include

* At a time when young people are facing extreme difficulties in finding jobs, high housing costs are affecting the ability of one in four 18-34 year olds to move for work, hampering economic recovery.

* Twenty-two per cent of 18-34 year olds have been forced to move back in or continue living with their parents because they are unable to afford to rent or buy their own home.

*Twenty per cent of this age group are delaying having children until they can afford to buy or rent their own home.

* Almost a third (31 per cent) of 18-34 year olds have had to continue living with a partner because they could not afford to live apart, or know someone in the same situation

So to any 17 year olds out there anticipating dreams of independence and material success in the immediate future, dream on….. for most of you, that goal is years away yet.

Having said this, please note that your life-chances do vary considerably depending on your social class and ethnic background – but more of that later.

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