From not working to networking

Parry Mitchell 4x3

Parry Mitchell on the role social media can play in tackling youth unemployment

Nearly a million young people are currently unemployed in the UK, with 430,000 claiming jobseekers allowance. 

Of particular concern is the number of young people who are finding themselves in the very difficult position of being unemployed for a prolonged period of time. Around a quarter of a million are currently among the long-term unemployed – the highest level since 1994.

Given that long-term unemployment for the whole population currently stands at 1.3 million, we need to do everything we can to ensure that our unemployed young do not find themselves out of work for extended periods, even for the rest of their lives. 

The ‘Work Programme’, which the Coalition introduced to replace the Future Jobs Fund, appears to have been rather badly named, because it doesn’t do much for work. Of 785,000 people referred to the programme, only around 18,000 have achieved what can be called a ‘job outcome’. Essentially, in its first 12 months the work programme placed only 2 in every 100 participants into work – a not very impressive figure. 

I would however, put it stronger. 

The government has the habit of announcing new shiny policies, each of which grabs a quick headline. But because they have been ill-thought through, such policies then wither on their implementation. And this is just another example.

For Labour, youth unemployment is very high up on our agenda. Our ‘Real Jobs Guarantee’ would give six months of paid work to anyone under 25 who has been out of work for more than a year, and would pay for it with a bank bonus tax.

Social media provides opportunities for us to help find jobs for more young people. In today’s world, young people no longer get their news from print; they get it from their screens. Their social life is screen-bound and much of their terms of reference come from their smart-phones

One programme, the Social Jobs Partnership, started in the US last November catches the eye. It is a collaboration between Facebook, the US Department of Labor and the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). It uses five of the biggest job listings sites in America to get access to 1.7 million vacancies onto Facebook, and builds upon research from NACE showing that companies want to use social media to better contact potential recruits. 

In the UK, The Job Crowd is the graduate recruitment equivalent of TripAdvisor, and enables job applicants to get inside information from those who already have jobs. They answer questions such as ‘What is it really like?’ and ‘Can I believe what they are telling me?’, and has been hugely successful.

Another issue that young people are faced with is unpaid internships. Competition for jobs is very high and every applicant is doing their best to make their CV seem as interesting as possible. Internships really matter and the sad fact is that many believe it necessary to take unpaid positions just to show that they have a track record.

Students doing holiday jobs are one thing and I have no problem with them doing this for pocket money, but people in the workforce having to work for nothing is simply wrong.  Many of the worst offenders are in the NGO or charitable sector. As it happens, charities that I have been associated with have employed unpaid interns, so I am not without guilt. 

Companies do it too, particularly those in media and marketing, where young people are willing to sacrifice their pay just for the glamour. And it exists too in the Westminster village, where MPs and Peers still have unpaid young people working for them, just to put the experience on their CVs. This practice is wrong and should change, and change quickly. Indeed, Parliament should be setting the example.

Our digital age is presenting new opportunities in so many ways, but the most successful of all has been social networking. If we can use this technology to help solve the iniquity of youth unemployment we will have achieved a lot.

Lord Parry Mitchell is a member of Labour’s BIS team in the Lords

Published 17th January 2013

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