Page last updated at 09:38 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 10:38 UK

Q&A: Life in a harsh jobs market

Pen and paper
Young people seeking work face a particularly tough climate

Nearly half of all firms will not be looking to hire graduates or school-leavers in the months ahead, a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests.

The CIPD found that only one in five companies planned to hire 16-year-olds due to leave school.

Why are young people vulnerable?

Unemployment in the UK has risen steeply in the recession. It now stands at above two million for the first time since 1997.

This means stiffer competition for jobs. Young people - who generally enter the jobs market with little or no work experience - may find it harder to convince employers to take them on.

The Prince's Trust fears the poorest youngsters will be particularly badly affected by the recession.

It says young people in deprived areas will be hardest hit as unemployment rises and local youth services become vulnerable to cuts.

The trust says youth charities may be unable to keep up with demand, as their services face spiralling demands from disadvantaged young people.

How can young people improve their job prospects?

Graduates and school-leavers will undoubtedly have to work harder to get themselves into employment this year.

Adam Hale, chairman of the technology leadership group at the Prince's Trust, says job-seekers must be distinctive and proactive and must communicate well.

"Having done things that are a little bit different, having made maximum use of your time are all important - do lots of things that make you distinctive," he says.

"Think about which areas you would like to work in - write to them, call them, seek them out rather than wait for opportunities to come to you.

"And communicate well - think about what you say before you say it. Listen - ask probing questions in response to what's been said."

He also suggests videoing a mock interview with a friend or family member to boost self-awareness.

"It's an experience that takes everyone out of their comfort zone."

The chief executive of the Higher Education Careers Services, Mike Hill, says: "There are hundreds of different professions. People need to cast their nets wider, look at professions related to their field and take careers advice".

Are there better prospects outside the UK?

Adam Hale says young people looking for work should think about spending time abroad.

"We are but one country in the global landscape. There are lots of countries round the world where GDP is growing not shrinking.

"Don't constrain yourself to thinking about the UK."

Is paid work the only option?

Graduates and school-leavers may also they can gain valuable skills by doing voluntary work for a while.

Martin Edmonson from Graduates Yorkshire says there are a "wealth of opportunities" to volunteer in the UK.

"There are plenty of worthwhile local charities that could really benefit from the skills that graduates can offer," he says.

"For instance, an IT graduate could build a website or a computer network, or a media graduate could produce promotional podcasts and videos.

"Many can offer graduates the opportunity to gain experience of working with people which can help them gain essential skills for employment, such as communication, team building and leadership."

Charities like Inter Cultural Youth Exchange offer graduates the chance to volunteer across the world on a variety of projects from promoting HIV/AIDS awareness to developing children's sports projects.

"There's never been a better time to gain new skills by volunteering abroad,'' said Shaffique Prabatani, chairman of ICYE.

What is the government doing to help school-leavers find work?

The government is committed to ensure all young people in England remain in education or training until they are 18, rather than the current 16.

The Education and Skills Act 2008 means that, from 2013, all young people will be required to continue in education or training post-16.

Last year, the Department for Children, Schools and Families introduced the Diploma qualification in England which combines theoretical study with practical experience.

The Diplomas operate on three levels - foundation, higher and advanced - and help students to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for employment and higher education.

The government also says it is committed to growth in its apprenticeship scheme.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently announced a £140m package for 35,000 additional apprenticeship places over the coming year and to extend opportunities to people facing redundancy.

The New Deal is in place to provide more intensive support to the minority of young Job Seekers Allowance claimants who do not leave benefit quickly.

In the Budget the government announced a £1.2bn package for all young people aged 18-24 who have been claiming JSA for 12 months to give them either a job, a work placement or work-related skills training for six months.

What is the government doing to help graduates find work?

This year the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Dius) is issuing a "Life after graduation" booklet to all graduates in England.

It offers information on a range of options such as teaching, further study, volunteering and working abroad.

Dius is also increasing the number of career development loans on offer to young people.

The department has set up a new "graduate talent pool" as part of an internship programme.

The online talent pool will link employers - such as Microsoft, Marks and Spencer, Network Rail and the police service - with graduates, to help them build up work experience.

It is hoped internships will improve graduates' skills and experience and may in some cases lead to full-time work.

Are any areas worth avoiding?

A study by graduate recruitment researchers High Fliers found the financial sector was particularly badly affected by the recession.

In recent years it had been a key growth area for jobs, but now graduate recruitment alone is expected to halve this year.

Is it worth educating more graduates if the job market is already so bad?

Every year, more than 300,000 people graduate from UK universities. Ministers say it is crucial to increase the proportion of graduates and skilled workers, so that the UK is in the best position to move out of recession.

It is committed to having half of people educated to graduate level and to increasing skills generally to enable the UK to maintain competitiveness with the rest of the world.

How many graduates are unemployed at the end of their studies?

Of those who graduated in 2007, the latest year for which figures are available, 5.5% were believed to be unemployed six months later, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

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