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14 October 2014

Tuesday 14 September

On Monday 29 September I, along with London Youth Chief Executive Rosie Ferguson and fellow Talent Match London Youth Board member Jamel Fraser were invited by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) to participate in a roundtable discussion on the topic of early intervention for young people into work at the Conservative Party Conference. In attendance was Norwich MP Chloe Smith, in addition to various representatives from the third sector. The crux of the conversation, in my view, was a dialogue around what is being done to prevent unemployment of young people. Various individuals spoke on the wider subject of early intervention in schools, the core theme of the roundtable. Topics ranged from the importance of youth workers within schools, to how to effectively engage with employers as a useful way to support young people into work. Work experience was also on the agenda, though only lightly touched upon.

 A conversation which caught my attention was presented by the Foyer Federation around the notion of ‘Advantaged Thinking’. Fiona from Foyer noted that there needs to be a shift in the perception of young people as being ‘disadvantaged’. For Fiona, there is an argument to have a more positive, ‘advantaged’ thinking around young people. Here, instead of observing the issues and negative stigma’s attached to young people, we note what they can offer. It was stressed to us the ability to detect the talent and potential young people possess and find ways to support them. Fiona’s input helped to set the tone of the discussion.

The Role of Youth Workers

I want to touch upon the discourse around the importance of youth workers in schools, introduced by Tomorrow’s People and Impetus-PEF in their presentation of the Think Forward initiative. They are branded as ‘Super Coaches,’ who provide invaluable support for young people within the schools they work in. Various attendees contributed to how individuals who work in the same capacity, as ‘super coaches’, are great role models. These individuals offer guidance for young people as they prepare for work or further education. In reference to early intervention into work, youth workers also provide an alternative approach in preparing young people into work. Being a youth worker myself, I will obviously advocate for more youth workers to be present in schools as I believe that they are priceless, for both the young people and the school.

Social Capital

During this discussion, one notion continued to catch my attention, Social Capital. Though offering slightly differing approaches, all the points reinforced the benefits possible through increased social capital. The Think Forward programme demonstrates the benefits of increased social capital for young people in schools. This comes in the mould of job ready skills such as educational attainment, access to relevant information and the building of networks that will enable them to progress into the working world. Furthermore, Think Forward, as well as programme such as Engaging Education, provides a young person with soft skills which further equips them to go into the labour market.

Beyond the “usual suspects”

Initiatives akin to Think Forward present positive steps in preventing further youth unemployment for the young people. However, with all the discussion for young people in schools (as well as points raised for the need to support university graduates) no one spoke about supporting ‘other’ young people. Young people with disabilities, young carers, young offenders, and young people who are not in the system were unrecognised in this conversation. Nonetheless, I argue that these young people are those who most need early interventions that support and provide them with skills and ready them for the working world.

Youth leadership

Whilst reflecting upon what had been discussed, I highlighted my concern at the lack of representation of young people. While I appreciate the opportunity, and praise the attendees for their work, it is irritating that those who are the most important beneficiaries were not present. Their attendance would have added real, organic value to the conversation. This was not the first occasion where there was a lack of young people in a discussion on services pertinent to them. It is imperative that more young people, more importantly, relevant youth, are invited to speak on discussions that are pertinent to them.  I strongly believe that by hearing firsthand accounts from these individuals it will allow us to create better quality programmes.

Shared learning

There is an additional request that I presented within the discussion, this being the importance of sharing. For me, having open and transparent communication around youth employment within the third sector is of great significance, but it is more important that the communication is honest. There should be no room for chest-beating and boasting but instead we should share our failures and struggles with each other. I believe by understanding what is not working entirely well within programmes allows for efficient and effective dialogue within the sector. Moving forward I suggested that, if possible, the CSJ should organise some focus groups to have more conversations. The communication between similar programmes and organisations is necessary in order to align with the ultimate goal of destroying the issue of youth unemployment.

Appreciation

Centre for Social Justice were incredibly welcoming, and I thank them on the opportunity to be able to express my opinions on the topic, especially to Tom for ensuring Jamel and I were given time to speak, in the midst of the conversations. Additional thanks again to Tom for being active and energetic about the opportunity of encouraging further dialogue with both London Youth and I, which I am looking forward to.