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Employment and training

Catch22 at the Party Conferences 2022

Catch22 staff smile at the camera, stood next to a roll-up banner which reads "Catch22 Employability: Breaking down the barriers to sustained employment. Helping employers develop a diverse and motivated workforce."

Catch22 hosted policy roundtables at both the Labour Party and Conservative Party conferences, in Liverpool and Birmingham respectively, to discuss youth underemployment. In our guest blog, Stella Tsantekidou, Head of Policy and Campaigns, summarises the discussions.

Party conference season saw growth taking the spotlight, and with growth, productivity, skills and employment rates will follow.

Catch22 attended the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool and the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. At each conference, we hosted a policy roundtable to discuss the underemployment crisis.

At our roundtables we heard from:

  • Ben Marson, Director of Partnerships at The Prince’s Trust
  • Phoebe Arslanagic-Wakefield, Senior Policy Advisor at Impetus
  • Ben Bradley, Public Policy Manager at TikTok
  • Mat Ilic, Chief Development Officer at Catch22
  • Naomi Hulston, Chief Executive Officer at Catch22
  • Kimberley Owen, Operations Manager of Catch22’s Horizons programme

We were also joined by guests from PWC, the West Midlands Combined Authority, Speakers for Schools, Green Alliance, IPPR, UK Year of Service and others.

Mat Ilic spoke on how despite fears of recession, the country is seeing high records of vacancies across all sectors. However, this hides the fact that young people are still three times more likely to be unemployed. When they are employed,  they are more likely to be underemployed, meaning they are in insecure work, whether it’s low pay, zero hour or part-time contracts, or with little hope for a long-term, sustainable career path.

The roundtable discussed some of the difficulties faced by young people searching for sustainable employment. When people are in insecure jobs, they will often avoid going to job centres because they are not confident about the quality of guidance they will receive or the types of jobs that will be on offer. Apprenticeships are not always readily available, or adequately marketed to those who would most benefit from opting for them over a university degree.

It is important that efforts are made to improve employment standards and address a host of issues, such as mental wellbeing, financial and digital literacy, and provide hands-on work experience that can open doors in the fastest growing industries, such as cloud computing.

From the perspective of fast-growing tech companies like TikTok, there is also work to be done to help young people identify the extremely marketable skills they already have. A young person who can create a funny video that goes viral showcases a number of highly sought-after skills. It involves coming up with a creative concept, staging a story, editing raw material, and delivering it in a appetising format. Not all online creators know how to monetise these skills and leverage them to enter competitive professional paths.

Naomi Hulston pointed out how many incredibly talented tech savvy young people we see participating in our programmes who don’t feel confident in a formal work environment. This is where structured support needs to come into place.

Phoebe Arslanagic-Wakefield drew attention to a productivity puzzle which any political party wishing to speed up the economy needs to solve. When a young person wants to work more hours or get promoted but struggles to do so, this can cause low productivity. Phoebe also stressed that finding a job that is meaningful and satisfying can be difficult, but the alternative can often lead to poor mental and physical health, low mood, and low confidence alongside diminished life chances.

Lack of skills to power the economy and help people into more sustainable and ambitious career paths was a theme that was echoed across the conferences and at fringe events. However, it was notably lacking from political speeches, with one panellist recalling an anecdotal Tony Blair quote that has long been making the rounds in Westminster: ‘You could announce World War III and no one would notice, as long as you did it in the middle of a speech on skills’.

As the new leadership of the Conservative Party is committed to growth and the Labour Party is putting stabilising the economy front and centre of their policies, we hope to see more focus on building up young people’s skillsets and tackling underemployment.

– Stella Tsantekidou, Head of Policy and Campaigns