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HAMISH MCRAE: We need to help young people find jobs for our future

HAMISH MCRAE: If we can get out of it all with a better trained, resilient workforce, then this is good news for the future

We can’t choose the time to be born – or even the year to graduate and try to find that first job.

This year is the worst year in a decade for obvious reasons, and there is a danger that the crop of college and school-leavers will suffer for life.

Not only will so many young people struggle to get a job; those who do may take one well below their qualifications, never getting back on the job they should have taken.

Getting a boost: We must do everything we can to help the young people find jobs for all our futures

Getting a boost: We must do everything we can to help the young people find jobs for all our futures

A series of stories emerged over the summer showing companies cutting back on both internship and recruitment programs.

Tomorrow is the start of National Graduate Week and it will be a worrying week.

While many companies are committed to continuing to hire, the hard truth appears to be that placements are a quarter to a third below last year’s level.

Most schemes start in October and then we will know more. Meanwhile, we know that while there is solid demand for graduates in some areas – high tech, healthcare and so on – there is no case in others. The airlines are not hiring new staff and will not do so for the time being.

So what should be done?

Well, governments can do something. The UK has launched the Kickstart program, where employers receive public money to create jobs for 16-24 year olds. That is now open and the jobs should start from November.

But while we do not want to downplay these types of actions in any way, these are minimum wage items and the scheme will only work if it does indeed jump-start people’s careers. Fingers crossed.

Employers can also do imaginative things. KPMG helps pay interns to earn a master’s degree if they delay their arrival for a year.

Deloitte scrapped the summer internship program, offering an online course and £ 500 goodwill instead.

And this week, the Institute of the Motor Industry is combining with Bentley a webinar to guide graduates into careers in the motorcycle trade.

So many things happen. But – and this is a huge but – if employers are firing people, there won’t be much room or money to help people start their careers.

All decent businesses recognize that recruiting the best young people is the lifeblood of their future. But if you’re trying to get through the winter, it simply isn’t possible to worry too much about the longer term. There may be no longer term.

There are two other things that allow the country to scramble through it better than it otherwise would.

One of them is the career equivalent of the Bank of Mum and Dad. Just as parents now need to help their offspring in their first home, they may now need to help them get their first job.

This is not so much a matter of money as a matter of contacts, ideas and support.

Many parents will have no contacts in the areas where their children want to work, but they will have knowledge and experience with the workings of the labor market. They will have friends, a network of contacts who can guide people into areas that are growing, giving them a sense of how to build a career.

This is inevitably unfair. Some people will have families and friends who can be of great help. Others, I fear, will have to do it all themselves. In that sense it is more like the housing market. It’s hard to save enough for that first home’s down payment if you don’t have someone to help you out. But somehow you have to climb the ladder.

The other thing that can help is the education system. None of us can know what the jobs of the future will be, but we do know that education is the key that opens up career opportunities.

A year with a soft labor market is therefore an opportunity to build up skills. For anyone with an entrepreneurial streak, a period of radical change like this is probably a good time to start a business.

But for most of us, we need skills that employers want. This could be the year to get them. None of this is easy. But it is of course very important for individuals, but also for the country.

If we can get out of all this with a more educated, resilient workforce, then this is good news for the future. In the meantime, we need to get people into that first job.