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Project 1 - Pathways to Employment: The experience of young people in the Midlands during recession - the 1930s, the 1980s and post-2008



The instillation of work discipline and work related skills as a solution to youth unemployment has a long history, although the impact of official initiatives on young people in specific geographic locations has been less studied. By analysing experience in particular urban settings during different recessions, Project 1 will evaluate policy impact, providing a focused appraisal of labour market change and transitions from education to work. A local focus allows a situated study, getting behind national accounts, to analyse how matters developed on the ground.

Research questions:

This project is analysing the nature of transition from school to work in earlier recessions. It focuses on contrasting urban areas (Birmingham/Coventry and Leicester) during three time periods (1930s: 1980s: post-2008) to reveal the role played by apprenticeship or work experience in shaping such transitions, the policy interventions employed to mediate youth unemployment – their success and their results. As the impact of these recessions on the Midlands economy changed over time, how were transitions to work transformed? In broad terms, we witness a shift away from strategies designed to prevent young people adding to a publically subsidised pool of casual workers to policies actively promoting any type of employment, waged or otherwise. The study of different time periods offers varied perspectives on how gender and ethnicity shaped training opportunities in changing youth labour markets. How successful have past official interventions been in preventing a drift into unskilled casual jobs – and thereby into long term social dependency?


Youth unemployment in the 1930s has attracted little historical attention. Academics have focused on the statistics, debating the ‘real’ juvenile unemployment rates (Garside 1977; Benjamin and Kochin 1979, Eichengreen 1987). Contemporary accounts argue that youth joblessness was higher than officially claimed (Jewkes and Winterbottom 1933; Jewkes and Jewkes 1938). Studies at local level (Bermondsey: Eager and Secretan 1925; West Ham: Roker 1927; Sheffield: Owen, 1932) focused on London or on cities in depressed regions, not the Midlands and local documentation remains to be explored.

A greater range of sources are available for the 1980s. The advent of training programmes: the Youth Opportunities Programme and the Youth Training Scheme that offer direct antecedents to current official insertion initiatives, attracted extensive academic attention. Place-based studies provide insights into the changing nature of the youth labour market (Ashton et al. 1982) and local documentary evidence focused on the Midlands cities can reveal the experiences of young people seeking to navigate a pathway into the labour market. Use can also be made of the 1931, 1981 and 2011 Censuses to provide snapshots of the composition of employment, and unemployment in each recession. Documentary review will trace changes in policy to address youth unemployment and designed to facilitate pathways into employment, the relative focus on ‘work first’ as opposed to ‘sustainable employment’, and the balance between local and national level policy. Archival sources held at The National Archive, business archives and trade union records in the Modern Records Centre (Warwick) and official reports can supplement published sources. Both Green and Whiteside have extensive experience of the types of statistical and archival research involved.

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Professor Anne Green

University of Warwick



Professor Noel Whiteside

University of Warwick







Funded by:

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