A lack of social skills is keeping young people out of work

There's a reason over 60% of new jobs at the moment are going to the over 50s, and that youth unemployment in the UK remains so high. Put simply, Britain's young need to know how work 'works'.

I took some heart from yesterday's unemployment numbers. There is no doubting that our recovery is horribly fragile a double dip isn't going to surprise anyone in the MoneyWeek office.

But still, the fact is that the private sector has created a pretty impressive 143,000 jobs in the last three months. Look at the year-on-year figures and the UK job market looks pretty healthy too: public sector employment fell by 123,000 (which is either a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it) but private sector employment rose by 428,000.

So more than three new private sector jobs appeared for every public sector job loss. That means that the UK is only 350,000 short of its peak employment numbers of 2008. And that almost 30 million people in the UK are in work.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

This isn't quite enough new jobs of course (2.5 million people are still officially unemployed and the real number is many hundreds of thousands more), but it does show that the coalition plan to rely on private sector job creation to take up the slack from the public sector isn't hopeless. That said, there are things in the numbers we have to keep worrying about.

The main one is youth unemployment. This isn't as bad as it seems. The much bandied about 20% number includes students who can't find part-time work, for example. It is also true that youth unemployment is high everywhere at the moment and has a tendency to stay so at this point in a cycle (employers are loath to take on people they have to train).

However, that doesn't mean that the UK doesn't have a particular problem with it. If you read The Times you will have seen their cover story yesterday about five young people struggling to get jobs. One girl, Siobhan Guyan, had multiple piercings and a 'punk' look which included bright pink hair. The Times helped her with her CV, taught her a few basic interview skills and explained to her that she would be wise to ditch the cool gear and get herself a pair of black trousers and a white shirt for interviews.

Today the paper reported that she is to start work in a dental surgery in May. This is a disturbing story. Clearly Guyan did really want a job. If she had not, she wouldn't have been dragging herself around the place dropping off CVs for so long and she wouldn't have been involved with The Times in the first place.

But given this, how could she not have known that her appearance would count against her if she wanted dental work? Could not her parents or even someone at the job centre have mentioned it? This odd failure to understand how work works might explain why most new jobs are being filled by non-UK-born workers and by older people: over 60% of new jobs at the moment are going to the over 50s.

That's good for them (and might even mark a reversal of the usual job market ageism) but it isn't so good for our young. Seems that after many years of lousy education and pointless exam results, a large chunk of them have been left not just educationally illiterate but socially so too. There has been much talk about how we should be creating jobs and apprenticeships for our young, but it rather looks as though our money would be better spent doing for all of them what The Times has just done for the girl with the pink punk hair.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.