Young people returning to insecure jobs post Covid, think tank finds

Experts say firms need to focus on ‘good work’ for all and ensure younger workers are given opportunities to progress 

Young people who have returned to work after being out of a job during lockdown are more likely to be in insecure roles, research has found.

A poll of 6,100 adults, conducted for the Resolution Foundation, found that young people aged between 18 and 24 who lost their jobs or were furloughed during either of the two national lockdowns were almost three times more likely to be in ‘atypical’ roles on their return to work compared to their peers who worked throughout.

This included insecure work such as temporary contracts, zero-hours contracts, agency work or working a job with variable hours.

A third (33 per cent) of young people who were in work before the first lockdown and were back in work by October 2021 following a period of worklessness – defined as having been unemployed, fully furloughed or self-employed without work – for three months or more during the lockdowns that started in March 2020 or February 2021, were in an atypical job.

In comparison, just 12 per cent of young people who worked throughout the lockdowns were in atypical work.

Young people who were workless during the lockdowns but returned to work by October 2021 were also more likely to spend the rest of the winter looking for additional work or looking to change jobs when compared to those who worked throughout (25 per cent and 19 per cent respectively).

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The report found that by October 2021, three-quarters (76 per cent) of the young people who had been workless during either of the national lockdowns had returned to work, noting that the unemployment rate for people in this age group had decreased to 9.8 per cent in the three months to November 2021: below the pre-pandemic unemployment rate of 10.5 per cent.

Commenting on the findings, Jon Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, said it was expected for younger people to be in insecure work, adding that it “usually suits their preferences”.

However, he warned that “such work becomes problematic when people are not given opportunities to progress” and advised that firms should focus on job quality and “making good work a reality for all” which benefits employee wellbeing and workforce productivity.

Louise Murphy, economist at The Resolution Foundation, agreed that firms needed to prioritise access to good quality jobs and sufficient hours, commenting that “a return to the workplace, on its own, is not enough”.

“Policymakers and employers must not become complacent – problems persist for young people who are at risk of insecure work and economic inactivity,” she explained, adding that the fact that young returners are more likely to be looking for new or additional work suggests higher dissatisfaction with their current jobs.