How to close the stark employment gap between young people from different ethnic backgrounds

Young people from Black and some Asian ethnic backgrounds continue to face the biggest challenges in the job market, a new report has found. Ceri Hughes looks at what can be done.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups often experience disadvantage in the labour market. The Work Foundation’s new report highlights this disadvantage using data from the 2011 census to explore a number of ‘employment gaps’ in London.

Young people from Black ethnic backgrounds have the lowest employment rates in London. There was a 20 percentage point gap between the employment rates of young people from some Black ethnic backgrounds and White British young people in 2011.

More recent government estimates for the whole of the UK substantiate these findings, with an unemployment rate of some 45% among young black people, compared to an overall rate of 21% at the end of 2012. Our report considers how young people in London can be better helped into work, but many of the recommendations apply across the UK.

To address this disadvantage we need to be clear about why these gaps exist. First, young people face a number of challenges finding work, regardless of ethnicity – high numbers of people competing for jobs means employers can be more selective, putting those with limited work experience and low skills at a disadvantage.

Some young people also face disadvantage because of their ethnicity. It is difficult to determine the extent to which discrimination plays a part in lower employment rates for some young people. But the Department for Work and Pensions has commissioned research that shows discrimination still operates in the recruitment process.

Perhaps most importantly, people from ethnic minorities are also at greater risk of poverty which is also associated with poor labour market outcomes. Young people whose parents are in poorly-paid jobs will have fewer resources to help them do unpaid work placements or low-paid apprenticeships.

Some action is being taken to tackle these gaps in London but it does not go far enough. Schemes that target young people from particular ethnic backgrounds often offer mentoring, careers advice and guidance sessions and workshops. But more needs to be done to support a greater number of young people to move into sustained employment.

Our report recommends ways to improve the prospects of young people in London and the rest of the UK, including:

  • making face-to-face careers advice and guidance available to young people from the age of 13;
  • extending the reach of current initiatives to increase ethnic, socioeconomic and gender diversity among young people entering apprenticeships and other routes into skilled work;
  • extending eligibility for concessionary fares to young people who move into work, covering their first month of employment;
  • developing in-work support – access to advice, job-matching services and discretionary funds – for young people and other people in low-paid jobs to encourage progression.

The commitment to continue to grow the number of apprenticeships in the UK is important, but without measures to ensure that young people can access these and other employment opportunities, they are unlikely to have much impact on youth unemployment.