How novel: solving youth unemployment by talking to young people.


A few weeks ago, while munching on my porridge oats at an ungodly hour before work, BBC Breakfast featured a rather depressing story about the Prince’s Trust’s recent findings that a third of unemployed young people ‘feel they have nothing to live for’. According to the study of over 2,000 16 -25 year olds, a daunting 9% of Britain’s youth have considered taking their own lives due to the dwindling job market.

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Needless to say, it certainly puts things in perspective when you’re moaning about Monday mornings in the office – I, for one, can’t help but feel like an ungrateful ponce when there are so many who would bend over backwards for a stable 9-5.

That said, hearing the experts debate the core problems and potential solutions, it seemed to me that they were missing out one of the defining characteristics of Generation Y: we’re hustlers. In fact, it really bloody annoyed me that all these over-30s were basically just pulling sad faces and saying how we should pay employers money to create more jobs.

Generation Y grew up with The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den, we’ve witnessed our parents being made redundant after devoting their lives to faceless corporations and we’ve learnt from the government that we can only truly rely on ourselves. Against the odds, we’ve become, what I shall rather grandly term, The Entrepeneurial Class.

Unlike our parents and our grandparents, young people no longer aspire to working the same comfortable job for 40+ years. Instead, we aspire to become the best within our own niches and, more importantly, to live varied and interesting lives – of which a diverse and changing career is simply the norm. And if the current rise of self-employed workers is anything to go by, working to line somebody else’s pockets is a dying ideal.

Arts graduates are a particularly good example of this so-called Entrepeneurial Class. All of the young writers I know produce their creative work in a freelance capacity, with part time and even full time jobs being used to pay the bills. One of my artist friends creates vinyl records with faces of music legends etched meticulously on the surface – they’re awesome – and though he works as a barman, he’s also negotiated a commission-based deal to get Manchester’s Afflecks to sell his art in store. That’s pretty savvy.

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Jake Wild’s vinyls, available from Cafe 3 in Afflecks Manchester

None of this changes the fact that youth unemployment is a major social issue but it does hint at the avenues we should be exploring to overcome the current problem. Perhaps, instead of providing businesses with incentives to boost employment, our government should instead be making it more viable for young people to go self-employed, by raising tax thresholds for under-26’s. In education, too, surely institutions should be coaching students on how to best adapt themselves to roles not specifically related to their courses.

Equally, it’s important to boost the awareness and appeal of organisations like the Prince’s Trust and IdeasTap, both of which offer a great deal of substantial funding and training for young people. What these organisations understand better than our government is that in order to help Britain’s youth, you have to recognise that today’s youth is facing extremely different career trajectories than previous generations.

The working world is different now, and sooner or later we’re going to have to realise that young people are too. And if we’re going to tackle the youth unemployment in a sustainable way, we will have to include young people views, expecations and suggestions in forming the solutions because, after all, anything is better than a fruitless pity party on breakfast TV.

BONUS TIP: Since I’ve touched on freelancing here, I just also wanted to remind people about HMRC’s Small Earnings Exemption (SEE) as I’ve been surprised how many people don’t know about this. If you’re freelancing on the side of a full-time job, you may not be earning a massive amount from it annually, yet if you’re registered as self-employed you may still be paying Class 2 NI Contributions. If your net income (i.e. income after expenses)  from self-employed work is going to be less than £5725 between April 2013 – April 2014, you should apply for a SEE certificate so you won’t be charged for Class 2 NI Contributions.

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