Students sitting an exam

Exams & employment

By Jessica Nicholls 14 August 2014 2 minute read

New data shows 868,000 16 to 24 year olds are still out of work. The overall unemployment rate has fallen and growth is up, but real wages have diminished and prospects are deteriorating for poorly qualified young people. It’s a mixed picture that plays to both sides of the political argument.

But what does it mean for students receiving their A level results today and considering those bewildering next steps, either into further education or employment?

There is an obvious connection between learning and employment. But we mustn’t ignore the range of personal assets and skills that also help prepare young people for work. John Cridland, director-general of The Confederation of British Industry, recently urged schools to focus on building resilience and character in their pupils—what he calls a more “rounded and grounded” education—that will benefit individuals in the workplace.

The need for confidence-building, relationship-centred activities alongside traditional learning is something we argued for in our recent research into children’s well-being. Because a child’s feelings about their relationships with family and friends, their everyday sense of self-worth and ability to cope with difficult setbacks and events, all these ‘subjective indicators’ will have a knock-on effect later in life. Young people with low self-esteem, for example, are less likely to attain post-secondary education and to be employed 14 years later, and resilience is linked to success in these areas.

Our Journey to Employment (JET) framework groups the full range of factors that influence the transition from education to joining the world of work—qualifications, personal circumstances, and emotional capabilities among others. Charities play a crucial part in smoothing this journey, helping young people who are NEET or at risk of becoming NEET get back on track, and providing social and emotional support, mentoring, motivational activities and basic skills training. And so the framework also enables them to understand and measure how this work leads to successful outcomes for young people and encourages them to share what they’ve learnt with the sector. We’ve met many organisations already doing it.

As young people pick up exam results this week and next, they know better than anyone that they need a range of skills to compete in the years ahead. Employment is a complex and serious personal and social issue—one that would benefit from better evidence about what works, as our education version of the Justice Data Lab plans to encourage. For now, we can be sure both education and employment will feature strongly in the lead up to next year’s General Election.