With youth unemployment higher in Scotland than the UK, it is an issue rightly taking centre stage ahead of May’s Scottish elections.

Reed in Partnership has published a report into youth unemployment in Scotland, following a survey of 16-25 year olds into the barriers they face moving into work.

Barriers to employment

The main concern cited by young Scots in our survey is that they lack sufficient relevant work experience to find a job. They are frustrated by the ‘catch 22’ situation of employers looking for experience without being willing to give young jobseekers a chance to gain it. For example, one young person told us: “I want to be given a chance by someone seeing potential and not just experience.”

More young people in Scotland feel that strong competition in the labour market is a barrier to employment than elsewhere in the UK, with 56% citing it as a barrier compared to 32% in South West England and 34% in the East Midlands.

Since Reed last ran a similar survey in 2010, the proportion of young people saying they feel held back finding work by a lack the confidence has increased, despite an improving labour market.

Careers advice

Fewer than 1 in 4 young people in Scotland rated the careers advice they received as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. Outside of London, Scotland has the highest proportion in the UK of young people saying poor access to careers advice is a barrier to employment.

When we asked young people who rated their careers advice as ‘poor’ or ‘not at all helpful’ why they held this view, many told us that the advice they received was too narrowly focused on directing them towards university. Crucially, over half said no one discussed vocational training options or apprenticeships with them.

Mindset or skillset?

We surveyed thousands of top employers about what they really look for in their employees. Given the choice between someone with the desired mindset but who lacks the complete skill set for the job, and someone with the complete skill set who lacks the desired mindset, a total of 96% of the employers surveyed picked mindset over skill set as the key element in those they seek and retain.

But in our survey, three out of five young Scots placed skill set ahead of mindset. This highlights a glaring disparity between what young people consider important and what employers are actually looking for.

Our report makes a series of recommendations for Scottish policy makers, including:

• Careers advice should provide more information about non-university routes such as vocational training and apprenticeships.
• Work experience should begin in the first year of secondary school.
• Employer engagement in schools must improve and an increased focus given to developing the soft skills and mindset to succeed.

With just weeks to go until the elections, all of us are looking to political parties to tell us how they will tackle youth unemployment. We look forward to being part of the conversation – so please take a look at our report and get in touch.

By Andrew MacKenzie, Reed in Partnership