A new research report from the education think tank EDSK indicates that the ‘ladder of opportunity’ for hundreds of thousands of young people is now broken, with job prospects for those not attending university showing a stagnation over the past two decades.

The report, sponsored by the Reed Group, calls for urgent reforms to bridge the gap between education and employment for non-academic pathways.

The study, released ahead of the Office for National Statistics’ upcoming statistics on youth employment, highlights a stark reality for school and college leavers who choose not to pursue university education. Despite only 37 percent of young people taking three A-levels in their final years, the report suggests that political and financial investments have been disproportionately directed towards university education.

At the end of 2022, the percentage of young people aged 16-24 classified as ‘Not in Education, Employment, and Training’ (NEET) remained at 12.3 percent, mirroring the figure from the year 2000. The report recommends a government focus on bringing young people and employers closer together from age 14 onwards to facilitate a smoother transition from education to employment.

One of the key findings is the loss of crucial programs acting as a bridge between education and employment, such as the ‘Kickstart’ and ‘Traineeships’ initiatives, which were abruptly discontinued despite their proven success in supporting young people into education, training, or employment.

The report proposes a 10-point plan for reform, including:

  1. Banning young people who have completed a university degree from accessing publicly funded apprenticeships.
  2. Offering 14- to 16-year-olds the chance to spend one day a week in the workplace or at college alongside their academic GCSE courses.
  3. Providing subsidies of up to £5,000 to employers who recruit and support young people into good-quality jobs.
  4. Introducing new and improved versions of ‘Kickstart’ and ‘Traineeships’ to generate opportunities for the most disadvantaged young people.
  5. Undertaking an independent review of T-levels to prevent potential failures.

Tom Richmond, director of EDSK, emphasised the urgency of repairing the broken opportunities, stating:

“The evidence base is clear about which schemes and programs can transform the prospects of young people, particularly those from less privileged backgrounds.”

James Reed CBE, Chairman and CEO of Reed, supported the report, stating, “These ten recommendations would have a transformational impact on the life journeys of many currently underserved young people. I hope policy makers will study this excellent report and run with its recommendations.”

As the report sheds light on the challenges faced by non-university attendees, it remains to be seen whether the proposed reforms will be implemented to revitalise the ‘ladder of opportunity’ for the younger generation.






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.