Why we should put the kids to work

Jason Smith

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Topics Politics

Freedom of Information requests sent to local authorities across the UK have revealed that the number of under-16s with part-time jobs has declined steadily since 2012. The number of child-employment permits issued by councils to employers declined by around 6,500 in the four years up to 2016.

According to Dr Angus Holford from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, the drop in teenage jobs is explained by young people feeling fearful that a part-time job could hinder their performance at school. Other explanations include a decline in the number of people having a daily paper delivered, meaning a decline in paper-round jobs.

In my experience as a careers teacher, it certainly appears that few pupils have any work experience when they start to develop a CV. When I was a teenager, I and perhaps half my year group had jobs. They were nothing spectacular: paper rounds, Saturday jobs in shops, helping at parents’ businesses, working on market stalls or in butcher’s shops. And if kids didn’t have jobs, it was because they were busy at the weekend with scouts, cadets, church groups or some kind of community activity. Since then, participation in extra-curricular organisations has also declined significantly.

The consequences of this decline in teenagers getting out into the world is that they appear less worldly than their parents’ generation. Kids interact less with adults who are not their parents, their parents’ friends or their teachers, and this has a detrimental effect on their developing maturity, communication skills and sense of independence.

The rules which cover the employment of children under school-leaving age are mainly found in the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act. A child may not be employed under the age of 13, but, once they are 13, they can work up to 12 hours a week. Most secondary-school pupils today are very surprised to learn this. That businesses have to apply for a permit to employ under-16s is also often an extra barrier for willing kids. This is particularly the case with the kind of jobs under-16s are likely to get, like helping out with small businesses and market-stall sole traders. Some of the jobs teenagers used to do are now considered inappropriate under health-and-safety legislation.

On the bright side, with a bit of cajoling from careers teachers like me, it isn’t impossible for teenagers today to get jobs. And, at the school I work at, many pupils have enjoyed working the same sort of cash-in-hand jobs I did when I was their age. We can talk about the need to make it easier for kids to get weekend and after-school jobs. But the truth is all they really need is a shove out the door. After all, finding ways around officialdom has always been one of the first things you learn in the teenage job market.

Jason Smith is a writer and careers lead at an east London school. Jason is convenor of the education conference, ‘Choosing Knowledge’, on 17 February 2018. Get your tickets here.

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Topics Politics