Sean O'Grady: Only right kind of jobs will avert a new lost generation


It is impossible to think about the latest depressing figures on youth unemployment without remembering the riots.

OK, many of the rioters had good jobs. Some came from wealthy backgrounds. But many fall into the one-fifth of British youth officially unemployed.

Some of those are, as the Government insists, part-time students finding it trickier to find casual work.

Even so, the increase has been stark since the start of the recession and we are, as the cliché goes, in danger of creating another "lost generation" – that is, after the one that came to maturity in the 1980s.

Many of them are only fitfully engaged in work even now, well into their 40s.

Economists have an unusually evocative piece of jargon for this – "labour market scarring".

Must that happen again? The answer to that lies in the nation's ability to generate the right kind of jobs for the skills available.

The evidence on both is dispiriting. Too many employers cite a lack of skills in school and college leavers. Not advanced IT or engineering abilities but basic literacy and numeracy as well as courtesy and responsibility.

The hooded rioters interviewed on TV do their chances in interview no favours.

How would you feel if one of them was introduced as your new dentist or even dentist's receptionist? Would you trust them to drive a bus or train? Deliver your mail? Fix your shoes?

Some skills are essential because the unskilled jobs have gone to China. Maybe, maybe, with intensive training and mentoring, they might just get work. That might be Government money well spent.

Politically, what one wonders is what happened to all the extra investment New Labour put into the schools? After all, the young unemployed of today are Blair's children, entering education around 1997 when he became Prime Minister.

They are also often "Thatcher's Grandchildren", the children or grandchildren of the "underclass" first identified in the 1980s.

They certainly behave like a lost generation. And they are scarring society.