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This ESRC-funded project ran from 1st June 2014 until 31st of September 2017. It was generated by an interdisciplinary team of experienced researchers, then all based at the University of Warwick, to conduct a detailed and historically-grounded case study of change in the transitions of young people from full-time education to employment study of the Midlands. All of the team members continue to be based in the Midlands. The Principal Investigator is Professor Kate Purcell, and the project was managed from the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick. The research team was as follows:

  • Professor Kate Purcell, Professor Peter Elias, Professor Anne Green, and Gaby Atfield, Dr Arlene Robertson and Dr Charoula Tzanakou from the Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick and Professor Noel Whiteside from the Department of Sociology, University of Warwick
  • Professor Phillip Mizen Department of Sociology, Aston University
  • Professor Melanie Simms School of Management, University of Leicester
  • Professor David Wilson Business School, the Open University

In an increasingly competitive youth labour market, young people's early labour market experience has become progressively more protracted, unstable and fragmented. In the transition from education to employment, participation in unwaged work, temporary work and involuntary part-time work have become an increasingly conspicuous aspect of many young people's early labour market experiences, whatever their qualifications. In the UK, as employers demand evidence of 'employability skills', work placements and internships have become an integral part of secondary and higher education, and of early labour market experience.

Much of this activity is unrecorded in employment statistics. Temporary and unpaid work placements agreed between individual employers and those who seek work experience, sometimes mediated by educational or policy organisations or temporary agencies, are rarely monitored. The increased early labour market experience of (often involuntary) temporary or part-time work that provides experience of employment but does not provide a living wage for young job-seekers, adds to the precarious picture of current youth access to opportunity.

Are these forms of work indicative of changing labour market dynamics? How effective have they been in promoting more stable labour market integration of young job-seekers? The aim of this project was to conduct detailed research to address these questions with reference to their historical antecedents and the socio-economic context within which young people compete for employment.

Four interlinked projects were designed to provide a detailed, systematic, regionally-focused and historically-contextualised overview and analysis of unwaged work in the Midlands. The focus was on the travel-to-work areas of Coventry, Birmingham and Leicester, but the project was conducted within a broader secondary analysis of changing employment trends and evidence of non-standard employment and unwaged work in the UK.

Project 1 - Pathways into employment of young people in the Midlands in the 1930s and the 2000s, in each of these socio-economic, industrial and policy contexts 

This project - drawing on national and regional archive material on education, training and employment trends, employer practices and policy interventions, has provided comparative evidence of how the transition of young people from education to employment was managed during previous periods of recession and recovery, with a specific focus on policy impact on youth labour markets. This was jointly directed by Professors Green and Whiteside, a Human Geographer and a Hisorian of Social and Public Policy Development.

Project 2 - Pathways into employment for young people from school and college

Project 2, with support from local schools, colleges and other organisations that work with young people, accessed 16-24 year olds who did not intend to proceed to higher education and held workshops to discuss the transition from education to employment and interviews were held with a sub-sample of those who attened these. One year later, participants were interviewed in detail about their subsequent labour market transitions. This project was directed by Professor Mizen.

Project 3 - Pathways into employment of graduates

Project 3, building on existing survey data, analysed the early career trajectories of 2009/10 graduates who had undertaken precarious work in the region and investigated their subsequent and current labour market experiences, in a follow-up telephone interview programme with a sub-sample of these graduates. Respondents were interviewed in detail about the opportunities they had been faced with, the paths they had taken, and the variables that had led to satisfactory and less positive experiences and outcomes This project was directed by Professor Purcell.

Project 4 - Employers’ practices and perspectives on the recruitment of young labour market entrants

This sub-project investigated employers' recruitment of young labour market entrants and their deployment of such job-seekers in unpaid placements, part-time employees and temporary workers in the context of relationships with regional universities, colleges and schools and as part of their recruitment and resourcing strategies. It was directed by Professors Simm and Wilson.

Although each project had its own area of investigation and specific research questions, they were designed to be complementary and facilitate comprehensive analysis of the transition from education to employment scheduled according to the diagram that follows.

Precarious pathways to employment project diagram

The staged research programme, involving secondary analysis and development of existing survey resources, new survey and case study research, along with investigation of the substantial archive, regional and national data available, constitutes innovative interdisciplinary research that has provided robust, multi-faceted evidence about labour market change and the boundaries between education, work and employment.