What does the EU referendum result mean for school leavers?

EU parliament building
We explore initial reactions to the EU referendum vote to find out about the potential impact of Brexit on school leavers, whether they’re applying for university or jobs.

In the wake of the EU referendum result young people face considerable uncertainty as they make decisions about their futures. Concerns have been raised about the outlook for jobs, apprenticeships and universities in the UK, as well as the prospect of restrictions on young people’s freedom to travel, work and study in a post-Brexit EU. It’s more important now than ever for school leavers to look at their options carefully, whether they want to go to university or join a school leaver programme or higher apprenticeship, and to be clear about the qualifications they stand to gain.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) includes among its members many big blue chip employers that recruit large numbers of graduates and increasingly are offering higher level apprenticeship programmes to school leavers with good A levels. Stephen Isherwood, chief executive at the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), said, ‘We are disappointed with the vote to leave the EU, which has moved us into uncertain territory. At the moment it’s hard to find a single reason why this is going to be good for our industry. It’s too early to know how employers will respond and the repercussions on student recruitment and the vacancies available to this and next year’s graduates.’

‘Plans for investment and hiring are being put on hold’

A snap survey by the Institute of Directors, published at the beginning of the week, suggested that those looking for jobs now may find increased competition as a result of a slowdown in hiring. While 32% of members said they would continue recruiting at the same pace, 24% were set to freeze recruitment. On a positive note, 71% said they would keep all their current UK operations going, but 17% said they would consider moving some operations out of the UK to elsewhere in the EU. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, commented, ‘A majority of business leaders think the vote for Brexit is bad for them, and as a result plans for investment and hiring are being put on hold or scaled back.’

A survey undertaken by PathMotion, an employer-to-candidate engagement platform, before the referendum suggested that the sectors most likely to face a reduction in graduate recruitment after a Brexit vote were banking and finance, retail, media, technology and law. Higher apprenticeship and school leaver programmes run by big graduate recruiters in these areas may be similarly affected.

Qualifications offer protection against economic uncertainty

Much of the impact on young people’s job prospects will depend on how the UK economy shapes up. Higher-level qualifications have been found to offer protection against unemployment in previous downturns. A report from the Centre for European Reform by Christian Odendahl and John Springford published earlier this month commented, ‘Economists know a good deal about the impact of recessions on different social groups: the young and the old, say, or the high-skilled and low-skilled. They have also studied how recessions impact the future earnings of those groups after the economy returns to normal. And the verdict is clear. It is the young and low-skilled who suffer the most.’

How will universities be affected by Brexit?

Organisations that represent universities responded to the referendum result by emphasising the need for the UK government to replace and sustain EU funding in higher education, and to support research cooperation and collaboration between the UK and EU after Brexit.

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said, ‘We should remember that leaving the EU will not happen overnight – there will be a gradual exit process with significant opportunities to seek assurances and influence future policy. Throughout the transition period our focus will be on securing support that allows our universities to continue to be global in their outlook, internationally networked and an attractive destination for talented people from across Europe. These features are central to ensuring that British universities continue to be the best in the world.’

Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, said it would seek to convince the UK government to promote the UK ‘as a welcoming destination for the brightest and best minds’. She added, ‘We will also seek to prioritise securing opportunities for our researchers and students to access vital pan-European programmes and build new global networks.’

Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, said, ‘EU and international students make an important contribution to our world-class universities, and our European neighbours are among some of our closest research partners. There are obviously big discussions to be had with our European partners, and I look forward to working with the sector to ensure its voice is fully represented and that it continues to go from strength to strength.’

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