Two-thirds of young people struggling to find meaningful work since pandemic, study finds

IES report finds working conditions significantly worsened for under-25s during Covid, with many citing mental health as a barrier to accessing good quality employment

The majority of young people have found it harder to secure high-quality work since the start of the pandemic, research has found, with poor mental health one of the main barriers.

A report from the Institute of Employment Studies (IES) found that 62 per cent of people aged 16 to 24 feel the pandemic has made it harder to find high-quality work – based on factors including environment, job security, and work-life balance.

The same percentage said the pandemic had impacted their confidence when it came to work.

The report warned that despite a fall in unemployment since the pandemic – dropping 2.1 percentage points between 2020 and 2021 – coronavirus had led to a deterioration in working conditions.

Cristiana Orlando, research fellow at the IES and author of the report, said that young people’s voices needed to be an essential part of the post-Covid recovery process.

“These findings highlight a real risk that the pre-pandemic trend of the worsening quality of youth employment and challenges in accessing good jobs will become further entrenched,” she said. “It is the duty of those supporting them, from government, to education, employers, and support services to provide it.”

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The report, part of the Health Foundation’s Young People's Future Health Inquiry, polled 1,345 young people.

It found that poor mental health was one of the biggest blockers for young people in finding high-quality work, cited by more than half (57 per cent). A third of respondents (36 per cent) cited physical health as a barrier.

The vast majority of younger employees also experienced stress and anxiety at work. Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of those polled said they experienced stress at work sometimes or often, with 69 per cent answering the same about anxiety at work.

Female respondents were more likely to report experiencing anxiety at work than their male counterparts (76 per cent and 58 per cent respectively).

A fifth of young people (22 per cent) also said they had experienced discrimination at work, with men more likely to report experiencing discrimination than women (28 per cent and 16 per cent respectively).

In interviews, young people cited a sense of urgency to secure work as soon as possible; a lack of social connection; and disruption to studies as reasons why they felt a lack of confidence in finding work.

Respondents also expressed an interest in learning about vocational routes into employment, with two in five (42 per cent) citing apprenticeships and a third (33 per cent) citing traineeships as being ‘very useful’ for securing work.

Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation, said that while young people were not necessarily affected by the virus itself, the measures in response to it had caused them to miss out on educational and social opportunities.

She said policymakers must ask how to create a “fairer, more equitable labour market for current and future generations of young people”.

The CIPD’s One Million Chances campaign aims to create a million opportunities for young people who have been hardest hit by the pandemic. 

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