Graduates and growth

The future of young people and the British economy are intertwined and inseparable; however, the future of both is uncertain.

Luke Raikes is a researcher at IPPR North @lukeraikes

We’re reminded again this week – with the GCSE grades published on Thursday – of the  talents of young people, and of the bright future they have ahead of them. Whether they choose the academic or vocational track from here, cultivating their skills will almost always result in better life prospects and higher wages down the line – £1.30 per hour more for A-levels, £7.40 more for a degree.

But these young people have more than their own higher wages to look forward to: these are the country’s future innovators, labourers and leaders; with 20% of recent economic growth down to increasing  skills levels, these young people will also contribute to our economy and our society.

The future of both these young people and the country to which they belong are intertwined and inseparable; however, the future of both is uncertain. The link between income inequality and qualifications is well documented, but the impact of economic growth is both unequal across society and uneven across the country: 6 months after graduation, London has gained 61% more graduates than it’s produced.

Despite the fact that many young people who picked up their A-levels last week will soon disperse across the country to study at university, when they graduate they will gravitate towards London where the more skilled labour force is 39% more productive than the national average. The growth and jobs this generates in London will in turn attract more highly skilled young people. This is not unexpected, and should to an extent be welcomed. London is not only our capital, but is one of the great cities of the world, and holds incredible opportunity for highly skilled young people.

If they can afford to move to London, the formidable housing costs in the capital will immediately sap at their low and insecure incomes. If they can’t make such a move, many will be forced back to the homes of their parents in whichever corner of the country they came from. The unevenness of economic growth will deny new graduates an independence and a career that was being cultivated, and exclude those without privilege even further from participating in the economic life of the country.

This is both a personal misery and an economic failure. We are denying young people opportunities and restricting their life prospects, while failing to deploy our most vital economic resource effectively. Some action can be taken quite easily – for example by investing in the brightest, and encouraging businesses to capitalise on the flow of graduates that’s on their doorstep. If we want our young people to prosper, our businesses to compete, and our public services to provide, we have to connect highly skilled young people with jobs in the great cities where their talent is cultivated.

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