Poll: Do you think young jobseekers should be more flexible amid a huge increase in the number of long-term unemployed in Suffolk and Essex?

LONG-TERM youth unemployment in Suffolk and Essex has soared by more than 300% since the economic downturn prompting calls for young jobseekers to be more flexible.

The county’s number of under 24-year-olds claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance for more than six months has risen from 380 in 2008 to 1,530 this year. In Essex there was an even bigger jump, from 615 in 2008, to 2,635 this year.

The news about Suffolk’s figures - described as “worrying” and “bleak” - come as statistics on apprenticeships offer a glimmer of hope.

Provisional figures for 2011/12 show the number of people starting apprenticeships in Suffolk leapt to 6,270, up from 3,710 in 2009/10.

Judy Terry, cabinet member for economic development at Suffolk County Council (SCC), said: “Young people seem to be unaware of the range of job opportunities across our county, and the fact that apprenticeships have been ‘downgraded’ in perception over the last decade, as more young people aimed for university, albeit for courses which do not always offer serious careers.

“Their parents, as well as their teachers, have to adapt their advice to support young people in grasping these opportunities.”

The county council is seeking to address the issue of long-term youth unemployment through its ‘Raising the Bar’ initiative. It is aimed at better identifying what skills Suffolk firms need and adapting teaching accordingly.

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It’s a move welcomed by Geoff Barton, head of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds. He said: “Schools are sometimes quite insular so I think these figures will be a bit of a wake-up call to all of us to make sure we give them the skills they need.

“I think what’s being pushed [Raising The Bar] is quite a radical piece of work. The figures are incredibly bleak but it’s reassuring something is being done.”

“These figures are worrying,” said Graham Newman, cabinet member education and young people at SCC. “It becomes increasingly difficult for untrained and unqualified people to get into work for the first time as they enter their 20s, leading to a life on benefits and a host of other issues.

“Meanwhile, some local employers report what they perceive as a growing lack of work-readiness and employability skills amongst school leavers. We want to address this concern on a strategic basis through the council’s ‘Raising The Bar’ initiative.”

Matthew Hancock, MP for west Suffolk, welcomed the increase in apprenticeships, which have risen from 460 to 970 in his constituency since 2009/10.

He added: “We are getting behind people who work hard and want to get on in life. Apprenticeships are a great way to help people get the skills they need to make a better future for themselves.”

The Prince’s Trust, which compiled the figures, is streaming an ‘Against The Odds’ forum on its Facebook page on Wednesday aimed at helping young unemployed people.

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