We cannot choose the moment to be born – or indeed the year to graduate and try to find that first job.
This year is the worst for a decade for obvious reasons, and the danger is that its crop of university and school leavers will be disadvantaged for life.
Not only will so many young people struggle to get into a job; those who do may be taking one far below their qualifications, never getting back on the track they should have followed.
Getting a boost: We must do everything we can to help the young find a job for all of our futures
There have been a string of stories through the summer of companies cutting back on both internship and recruitment programmes.
Tomorrow marks the start of National Graduate Week and a worrying week it will be.
While many firms are committed to keep hiring, the harsh truth seems to be that placements are running a quarter to a third below the level of last year.
Most schemes start in October and we will know more then. Meanwhile, we know that while there is solid demand for graduates in some areas – high-tech, healthcare and so on – in others there is zero. The airlines are not hiring new staff and won’t be for what may be a long while yet.
So what’s to be done?
Well, governments can do something. The UK has launched the Kickstart Scheme, where employers get public money to create job placements for 16 to 24-year-olds. That is open now and jobs should start from November onwards.
But while not wanting in any way to downplay this sort of action, these are minimum wage posts and the scheme only works if it does indeed kick-start people’s careers. Fingers crossed.
Employers can do imaginative things too. KPMG is helping pay for trainees to take a master’s degree if they defer their arrival for a year.
Deloitte scrapped its summer internship programme but offered instead an online course and a £500 goodwill payment.
And this week, the Institute of the Motor Industry is combining with Bentley on a webinar to help steer graduates into careers in the motor trade.
So lots of things are happening. But – and this is a huge but – if employers are laying people off there will not be much space of mind, or much money, to help people starting into their careers.
All decent companies acknowledge that recruiting the best of the young is the lifeblood of their futures. But if you are trying to survive through the winter it is simply not possible to worry too much about the longer term. There may be no longer term.
There are two other things that may enable the country to scramble through in better shape than might otherwise be the case.
One is the career equivalent of the Bank of Mum and Dad. Just as parents now have to help their offspring into their first homes, now they may have to help them into their first jobs.
This is not so much a money issue as one of contacts, ideas and support.
Many parents will not have contacts in the areas their children want to work, but they will have knowledge and experience of how the job market operates. They will have friends, a network of contacts that can help guide people towards areas that are growing, giving them a vision of how they might construct a career.
This is inevitably unfair. Some people will have families and friends that can be of huge help. Others, I am afraid, will have to do it all themselves. It is in that sense rather like the housing market. It is tough to save enough for the deposit on that first home if you don’t have someone who can help you. But somehow you have to get on to the ladder.
The other thing that can help is the education system. None of us can know what the jobs of the future will be, but we do know that education is the key that opens career opportunities.
So a year of a soft job market is an opportunity to build skills. For anyone with an entrepreneurial streak, a period of radical change such as this is probably a good time to launch a business.
But for most of us we need skills that employers want. This could be the year to get them. None of this is easy. But it is really important for individuals, of course, but also for the country.
If we can emerge from all this with a better educated, more resilient workforce, then this is good news for the future. Meanwhile, we have to get people into that first job.