Skip to content Accessibility statement

A job in itself: the thankless task for young unemployed people looking for work

Posted on 17 October 2012

A new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), based on a study led by the University of York, highlights the task faced by young unemployed people.

With more than one million 16 to 24-year-olds unemployed ahead of the latest unemployment figures published today, the study looked at the challenges facing young people in one of the toughest jobs markets in decades. The research found vacancies closed to candidates within days, and in some cases, hours. 

Many jobseekers are prepared to take any job, but it’s hard to make work pay when many jobs offer short hours and low pay

Professor Becky Tunstall

In three UK cities, one with a weak supply of jobs, one with a better supply and one in-between, researchers sent  2,000 job applications from fictional candidates with at least five good GCSEs and relevant work experience to 667 real vacancies (sales assistants, cleaners, office administrators and kitchen hands).

Even in the stronger job market, there were 24 unemployed people chasing each retail vacancy available through Jobcentre Plus, and 50 for each office vacancy. In the weaker job market area, the figures were 66 and 44 respectively.

A 22-year-old man in the medium job market described taking his CV into a shop: “The other worker who wasn’t a manager threw it in the bin, because people are trying to protect their own jobs…it’s dog-eat-dog at the moment.”

The study was led by the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy and also involved researchers from the University of Warwick and the London School of Economics.

The researchers also found:

  • Over two-thirds of applications (69%) received no response at all.
  • 78% of the jobs applied for paid under £7 an hour, while 54% offered the minimum wage. Just 24% of the vacancies offered full-time, daytime work.
  • In the weak labour market, 10 jobseekers chased every job compared to five jobseekers in the strong one.
  • Jobseekers who do not have high-speed internet at home are at a substantial disadvantage and can only search for jobs sporadically, rather than the daily basis that is required.
  • Applications sent a week after jobs were first advertised were half as likely to receive positive responses as those sent in the first three days.
  • The research found there was strong evidence that good-quality applicants from neighbourhoods with poor reputations were not more likely to be rejected by employers.
  • However, employers expressed a preference for local candidates with easy journeys to work. One employer said: “Someone who is an hour’s journey away is going to be no use to me”.  

Transport proved a big barrier for young people, with applicants reliant on public transport severely hindered. While current policy requires jobseekers to look further afield (up to 90 minutes away), it does not necessarily succeed in getting more people into work. Young people were willing to consider jobs at such distance, but the research found it puts jobseekers into competition with others who are closer.

Lead author, Professor Becky Tunstall, Director of the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy, said: “Many jobseekers are prepared to take any job, but it’s hard to make work pay when many jobs offer short hours and low pay. Applicants face huge barriers when they take account of costs such as travel and childcare.”

The report suggests jobseekers would benefit from extra intelligence and local knowledge from their Jobcentre Plus advisers about employers’ recruitment and selection practices to enable better targeting of applications.

However, even with this support, applying for entry-level work in the current climate is a thankless task for many young unemployed people, particularly if they live in weak job market areas.

Young people had responded to repeat rejection by volunteering, improving their qualifications and turning to friendship networks to enhance their job search.

Chris Goulden, Head of Poverty at JRF, said: “It’s important we have measures that provide more full-time, decent-paying jobs that can ensure work pays. A lack of success in the jobs market saps confidence, demotivates and leaves a scar across a generation of young people, while part-time, low-pay work traps people in poverty.

“On the day the latest unemployment statistics are released, this report makes for grim reading for young people. The intense competition shows the main problem is more fundamental - a major shortage of jobs.”

Notes to editors:

  • The full report and findings: The challenges for disadvantaged young people seeking work by researchers from the London School of Economics, the University of York and the University of Warwick, is available to download for free from
  • JRF is an endowed foundation funding a UK-wide research and development programme. Further information visit
  • More information on the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy at

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

Keep up to date

 Subscribe to news feeds

 Follow us on Twitter