Gina Davidson: Luck’s deserted this generation

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LUCK goes a long way when it comes to the world of work. You could be lucky enough to know what you want to do for a living from an early age, being able to focus on the exams you’ll need to get into the university which offers the best course to get the degree that will open employers’ doors on graduation.

Or you might be lucky to be born into a family with its own business – your life’s course charted for you. Or perhaps you’re one of the lucky few who has parents who know people who can get you in somewhere, no interview questions asked.

However Lady Luck is a fickle mistress, which is why most young people do not know what kind of career they want, although they may have a vague idea that further education is a good thing. As school end nears, or graduation looms, that’s when reality bites and the realisation dawns that a week’s experience stacking shelves in Tesco has perhaps not quite prepared you for working for a living.

And if you throw in a recession, a contracting jobs market and cuts to benefits, then right now being young and unemployed is perhaps as unlucky as it gets.

Edinburgh is in the grip of a youth unemployment crisis. Figures from the Office of National Statistics just out this week have shown that the number of 18 to 24-year-olds on Jobseekers’ Allowance has risen by an average of 294 per cent in a single year.

That’s a huge number. Things seem particularly bad in the south of the city where numbers have shot up by a whopping 800 per cent. Of course the reality of those figures mean that instead of just five young people chasing each job there are now 45. That doesn’t seem too bad on the face of it, but if you are one of those 45, or the 65 in Edinburgh East, or the 60 in Leith, then the stress of looking for work knowing it’s not there, must be unbearable.

Despite all the rhetoric which is being bandied around at the moment from big business chiefs – CEOs on their comfortable share-option packages and proper gold-plated pensions and let’s not forget Tory MPs – young people are not workshy, lazy incompetents. They are just unlucky to be looking for work when there’s none available and they have no real experience to offer.

And no matter if you believe in the maxim that you make your own luck through hard work, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. Most people – no matter their age – just want to have a job they enjoy, and failing that, one which at least pays them properly.

When I left school, with no real plan, I ended up at the Jobcentre. I didn’t find it depressing, I found it terrifying. But they found me a job. It was 1989, the “gie’s a job” tension of the mass unemployment of the Thatcher years had subsided, and the recession of the John Major government lay ahead, so there were jobs to be had.

Apprenticeships then were a thing of the past. Instead there had been YOPs, Youth Opportunity Programmes, and then Youth Training Schemes. But there was a stigma attached to YTS. If you were on one, you were a no-hoper and had no future. That of course was because you were paid a pittance and treated like a dogsbody.

Apprenticeships are back though and despite the gloomy figures, Edinburgh does seem to be leading the way.

The Edinburgh Guarantee introduced by the council last year aims to offer all school leavers training, an apprenticeship or paid work experience placements. The council itself has led from the front and employs 70 young people as apprentices across its departments, while Lothian Buses has employed six interns, and Sir Robert McAlpine has offered places to 13 young people, either directly or through contractors on the building of Quartermile and the EICC extension.

There are other things happening. The city’s schools run a job, education and training programme, a year-long work experience course for fourth year pupils, which gives them work placements with major employers. Fifth year pupils at some schools are currently being selected for mentoring by business people too – a programme which may eventually run in all secondaries.

But while you can give youngsters experience, tell them how to write a CV, what they should say in interviews and make them realise that 9-5 is just that, the big problem is what happens next.

It’s a problem which will not change while banks refuse to invest in companies and economic growth stagnates because the government refuses to budge from its cuts programme.

Without a change there, the only thing which will grow in our age of austerity is unemployment. And it will be the young who suffer most.

Savings grace

OUR new councillors have hardly have their feet under their desks and they’ve become mired in a spending controversy.

Admittedly the purchase of £18,000 worth of iPads was under way before the election, but there’s something about this decision that smacks of David Cameron telling us we’re all in it together, then being found gulping down oysters in a plush restaurant.

If the spending of £18,000 does reduce the council’s annual paper bill of £200,000, then all to the good – but people will want to see the savings.