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02 January 2014

Thursday 2 January 2014

Like many other people, today was my first day back at work after the Christmas break and it begun with hearing on the radio the statistics from The Prince’s Trust; that as many as three quarters of a million young people in the UK may feel they have “nothing to live for” and that almost a third of young jobless people in the UK have contemplated suicide. As I unravelled my emotional response to this over my Fruit and Fibre, I realised there were three particular reasons why the way this story was being presented irked me…

First, because it rings too true. The situation facing young people looking for work at the moment is really tough, and for many who don’t have the right support and opportunity it can feel pretty hopeless. I’m pleased that The Prince’s Trust have highlighted this and opened a debate. It is particularly important that they have highlighted the role that mental health issues play in perpetuating young people’s unemployed status. Many youth and employment services are not equipped with the specialist expertise to identify or support young people with mental health challenges and we need to get better at this.  

Second, despite recognising the picture that was being painted by the data, I was frustrated by the way this was being reported, because there is a risk that young people are seen as lost causes if the debate gets framed in this way. Yes, we need to raise awareness of the challenges facing young people, but by reporting like this we risk perpetuating stereotypes of young people to mainstream audiences and making more young people feel even more isolated and hopeless. The young people we work with who are currently out of work are finding it tough, and at times struggling to see how their future will pan out. But they do have a whole lot to live for: their friends, their family, seeing their kids grow up, going out on Saturday night, their volunteering project or local youth club. Seeing or reading in the news that high percentages of their friends are suicidal doesn’t help them, or the general public, know what to do about it. It is a shame that there is not wider reporting more generally for the good work on employability done by The Prince’s Trust, local youth organisations and others; and the role young people are taking in creating a positive future for themselves.

But the main reason I got frustrated by this report on the news this morning is because the situation is utterly avoidable. Lots of employability programmes have been tried and billions of pounds have been spent, but still many thousands of young people are unable to find work or engage with training or education opportunities. We need to try a different approach, one that is refocused so that it starts first with the needs of young people and employers, and works with them to succeed: more focus on outreach to find those who aren’t engaging; consistent one-to-one support; and on building the confidence, resilience and networks of young people in the way that good youth work has traditionally done. Employers can then provide skills training and work experience to give young people the start they need in their chosen career. And if we are to ensure that a generation of young people are not labelled as failures before they’ve even reached adulthood, we need positive, assertive leadership from government, including:

  • Investment in supported youth employment services that start early and where the young person is; using outreach and personalised support to help them tackle their own barriers to work and develop the skills and confidence to navigate their own career over the long term (the youth work approach to youth employment)
  • More incentives from employers to support young people; not just at the job stage but offering work experience, mentoring and partnerships with local schools and youth organisations
  • A more positive message across the board that young people can and will succeed, starting with government, but backed up by employment services, youth organisations and the media

It is with this combination of things that young people themselves will start to paint a positive picture of their own futures and start to plan how they will succeed. 

You can read more about The Prince's Trust's Macquarie Youth Index 2014 here.

Another blog worth reading which highlights many similarities, comes from The Foyer Federation's CEO, Jane Slowey. Read her response to these findings here.

An article in Children and Young People Now referring to these recent findings and the response from the sector, including that of Rosie and Jane, can be read here.