Young job-seekers face a tough time ahead looking for work as the recession deepens, with almost half of 500 firms in a survey saying they will not be taking on school-leavers or graduates this year.
In the words of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which carried out the survey, young people face a long hot summer looking for work.
The poll found that only one in five companies planned to hire 16-year-old school-leavers.
The picture was slightly better for university graduates, although a third of companies said they had cut their intake of graduate employees for 2009.
Nearly half, 45 percent, of firms are not planning to recruit from either group in the coming months, illustrating the scale of the economic downturn.
Employers have for a long time had doubts about the employability skills of those leaving education, and this year's crop face employers in a more choosy mood than ever before, said Gerwyn Davies, public policy adviser at the CIPD.
Against this backdrop, graduates and school leavers need to sharpen their case for being picked ahead of their classmates -- and fast, he added.
In the three months to March, the number of people looking for work rose by 244,000 to above 2.2 million -- the biggest rise since the downturn of 1981, reinforcing fears the jobless toll could hit 3 million by next year.
Ruth Elwood, head of recruitment at accountants KPMG, which helped with the study, said the recession is forcing young people to undertake a systematic job search while still studying for their exams.
The harsh reality is that it is no longer enough to start thinking about jobs once exams are over. The signs are that this has been getting through. Graduate schemes have been filling up earlier than probably ever before, Elwood said.
Those who do not already have a place for September are unlikely to find one now, or not in their first choice profession, she said.
(Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Steve Addison)