Page last updated at 23:54 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 00:54 UK

Big choices for school leavers

By Emma Simpson
Business correspondent, BBC News

Greg James
That's what I really want at the end of the day, to get a job so that all the hours of hard work pay off, rather than sitting around doing nothing
Greg James, student

It is hard to imagine a more difficult time to be a school leaver entering the world of work.

The class of 2009 will comprise the first students in a generation to finish their studies in a recession.

With youth unemployment already at 16% and rising, what will their future be?

Greg James, 18, is revising hard. He is in the middle of his exams at the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College. He is also working hard to find a job with prospects. Greg has applied for up to 10 positions so far, without any luck. His dream job is working with computers.

"That's what I really want at the end of the day, to get a job so that all the hours of hard work pay off, rather than sitting around doing nothing," he says.

He is not alone - an estimated 800,000 school leavers and graduates will hit the UK jobs market this summer.

What happened to 18 year old school leavers in 2008?
In England 63.4% went on to full-time education or training
In Wales 9.4% went into employment
In Northern Ireland 14.8% went on to work based training
In Scotland 3.9% became unemployed
Sources: Department for Children, Schools and Families, Careers Wales, Department of Education Northern Ireland and Careers Scotland.

In Stoke, the number of vacancies for school leavers is down dramatically compared with previous years.

Apprenticeships are also thin on the ground. Local employers such as JCB have been cutting back on their workforce.

Recruitment drive

The nearby Alton Towers Resort is one of the few big local companies which has continued to recruit this year. Business is thriving in the recession.

It is also a popular destination for school leavers, with dozens going on to secure permanent positions.

Traditionally, it would be in the midst of a summer recruitment drive, but that's been cancelled because Alton Towers has already been overwhelmed with people looking for work at the start of the year.

This year we've had an unprecedented 11,000 applicants for 2,500 positions, so we've already filled our positions
Nick Allen, Alton Towers

"Typically, what we'd be doing right now is recruiting an extra 400-500 employees for the summer season, including a lot of school leavers," said Nick Allen, head of recruitment.

"Traditionally, we've struggled to attract the right number and calibre of applicants, but this year we've had an unprecedented 11,000 applicants for 2,500 positions, so we've already filled our positions," he says.

One of the posts has gone to Jase Alcock, a former JCB worker who was recently made redundant.

He has switched from making fork lift trucks to greeting guests - a move he never imagined - but is making the most of.

Michael Caine, student
You invest a lot of money and time in going to university, if you end up with a degree, you still may not end up with a better job
Michael Caine, student

Stories like his help explain why it is going to be so much tougher for school leavers this summer.

Relatively low skilled jobs are being swooped on by higher skilled workers in need of work.

Difficult choices

Back at the sixth form college, the economic realities are being spelled out to students when they meet their careers advisers.

Pupils who had expected to go straight into work and get some on-the-job training at the same time are now debating whether to go into higher education instead.

For Michael Caine, studying for an A-level in Film, Media and Critical Thinking, it is a real dilemma.

"Either I try to find a job, or go to university and get a student loan. You invest a lot of money and time in going to university, if you end up with a degree, you still may not end up with a better job," he says.

In the past, Stoke has been heavily reliant on traditional industries with typically low skilled jobs, which the children of today's parents might have done.

But with manufacturing in long-term decline, there are far fewer posts which can offer school leavers a secure future and some form of career.

At least one in 10 young people in Stoke is not in employment, education or training.

City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College
City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College has 1700 students

The college and the city have been working hard to raise aspirations and to persuade young people it is worth their while staying on at school to secure better qualifications to win the higher skilled jobs of the future.

Now, 70% of 16-year-olds choose to remain in full time-education.

But the danger is that the recession may undo their efforts.

"I'm really nervous this summer," says the head teacher, Helen Pegg.

She and others like her are worried not only about the tightness of the jobs situation, but about the ability of the system to cope with a surge in demand for university and college places.

"The very able students from the leafy suburbs will always find somewhere to go. It's going to be the less able, less confident who are going to be most disadvantaged," said Helen.

'Stress'

Many pupils are still not absolutely certain what they want to do.

Helen Pegg, head teacher
The very able students from the leafy suburbs will always find somewhere to go. It's going to be the less able, less confident who are going to be most disadvantaged
Helen Pegg, head teacher

Sitting in the busy library, Gregory thinks that if he cannot get a job soon, he will continue with his studies and move on to university in 2010. Michael reckons he will probably end up at university, too.

It is not what they had in mind a year ago, but the hope is that they will be armed with more skills for the recovery, whenever that comes.

What they both want to avoid is ending up on the dole.

"It's quite stressful and I do feel under pressure, but I'm trying to stay positive," says Gregory.

Helen Pegg, the head teacher, says there is a lot at stake.

"We've invested years in these young people and their talent is just beginning to emerge. If they find themselves in their perception on the scrap heap because nobody wants them or they can't go anywhere then all that investment could be wasted.

"Stoke-on-Trent, if it needs one thing it needs to be ambitious, for its young people and the city. And if these young people are frustrated at this next stage then I'm very concerned about the impact it will have going back into local communities," she says.



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