'Finding work feels impossible for my generation'

By Daniel Thomas
Business reporter, BBC News

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Image source, Tiah Paige Burrell
Image caption,
Tiah Paige Burrell wonders how she is supposed to get experience for a job, if no one will give her work

Tiah Paige Burrell says job seeking during Covid has felt "impossible", leaving her low and close to despair.

The creative professional from Great Yarmouth, 20, left a job just before the pandemic began and has only worked for a month at her local theatre since.

According to new research from the Prince's Trust, people under 25 account for three in five of the jobs lost during the crisis so far.

And it warns youth unemployment could rise even higher.

The problem, it says, is that younger workers are over-represented in sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, such as hospitality and entertainment, and these will take longer to recover.

They are also under-represented in occupations likely to see the strongest job growth coming out of the crisis, such as health and social work.

Ms Burrell says she had job application after job application rejected last year - the NHS was the only employer hiring locally and she didn't have the right skill set.

She finally found work at a community theatre in December, before the UK went into lockdown again, but while the theatre hopes to take her back in May, there is no guarantee.

"Because I want to work in the creative industries, there's almost nothing out there - the industry has been hit so hard," she tells the BBC.

"And as someone who doesn't have a lot of experience, it makes it doubly hard. A lot of jobs require experience, but how are you supposed to get experience if it isn't given to you?"

'More support needed'

There are signs the wider jobs market is stabilising, with the unemployment rate dipping to 5% in January, down from 5.1% before.

But the number of workers on company payrolls was still 693,000 lower in February than it was a year earlier, with under-25s accounting for about two thirds of the fall.

The Prince's Trust says long term "structural changes in the labour market" will make it harder for young workers to bounce back as the economy reopens.

And it expects the lost earnings and damaged employment prospects to cost those jobseekers as much as £14.4bn over the next seven years.

Image source, Matthew Gilbert
Image caption,
Matthew Gilbert is looking for work in the ecology sector

Matthew Gilbert, 22, graduated from Reading University last year and has been job seeking for over a year.

"It has caused a lot of stress. It has made me feel like I don't have a direction and it is slowly grinding down my confidence," says Mr Gilbert, who lives with his parents on London.

He is looking for work in what he studied - ecology and wildlife preservation - but he says a large number of candidates are chasing a tiny number of jobs. He has only been asked to about four interviews since last March.

Like others, he has faced issues with mental health and anxiety during the pandemic, but he tries to stay optimistic.

"I am hopeful things will start rebounding, but we have to wait and see."

Image source, Getty Images

Another risk, the Prince's Trust says, is that pre-existing inequalities could worsen if youth unemployment remains high for a long time.

It says the decline in working hours for young people with no qualifications - at 34% - has been five times higher than the decline for those with a degree level qualification.

Meanwhile, the decline in hours worked by young black people - at 49% - has been three times higher than for young white people.

Jonathan Townsend, head of The Prince's Trust, says the events of the last year have "added barriers that can seem insurmountable" for young people entering the jobs market.

He says government schemes had helped, but there was "much more to do".

"Failing to take action risks not only harming young people's futures, but the future of our economy as a whole."

The Department of Work and Pensions says it has been offering a range of support, including more money for traineeships, a type of work placement, and better incentives for employers to take on apprentices.

A spokesman says: "We are helping young people fight back from this pandemic by creating fresh opportunity fast.

"We have a Youth Offer in place which includes access to support from our Youth Hubs and Kickstart, which has already created 150,000 approved job placements.

"And through Skills Bootcamps, the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, more apprenticeships and more traineeships we are helping young people get the skills they need as we build back better."

Are you a young person who is currently unemployed? Share your experiences by emailing haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

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