Helping young people succeed in society

Jasmin De Vivo

Covid-19 has affected each and every one of us in more ways than one – from unemployment and disruption to education, through to the impact on mental wellbeing and our economy. While the pandemic has undeniably caused short-term and long-term challenges, according to analysis by The Institute of Fiscal Studies, lockdown will hit young workers the hardest, with a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield dubbing them the “Coronavirus Generation”.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) amongst others has signalled we are facing the worst jobs crisis in a generation and young people aged 18-24-year olds will be disproportionately impacted. In the ‘Take the Temperature’ report by Beatfreeks, which researches national youth trends, 77 per cent of self-employed young people stated they had lost work, 58 per cent said they uncertain about their future, while 65 per cent admitted to being worried about their mental health in light of Covid-19.

The Government’s recent announcements of Opportunity Guarantee measures, including the Kickstart Scheme, are a welcome move in supporting young people. To ensure its success we need to take advantage of regional insight into growth sectors and skills demands, listen to employer needs and requirements, and identify the key skills needed to help rejuvenate our communities, and thus our economy. Above all though, we need to engage young people effectively, and ensure they are aware of, and have access to these opportunities.

This support is particularly essential for those not in education, employment or training (NEET). To address this, schools, colleges, local authorities, training providers and employers must work together to ensure their young people have the education and training opportunities to help them not only upskill but also boost their confidence and mental wellbeing. A good example of this is the West Midland’s Combined Authority’s new youth employment offer for young people in the region. This provides access to vocational training, more work coaches, funded work placements, apprenticeships and more support to become self-employed.

In addition to this, supporting young people with special educational needs (SEN) into employment has never been more important. Everyone deserves the opportunity to gain experiences and skills that will develop them as individuals as well as help them to flourish in society. This is a challenge which many schools and organisations have prioritised tackling long-before Covid-19 came along and exacerbated the situation.

Every young person is capable of contributing to their community, and one school leading the way in providing these opportunities and connections to the world of work is West Lea School in Enfield. It’s ‘Learning for Life’ campus supports students with SEN (aged 14-25) leaving education, equipping them with the skills necessary for an independent life.

Providing taster days at college, work experience, supported internships and placements, the aim is to help students build key skills including confidence, resilience, creativity, and independence.

95 per cent of adults with a learning disability are not in any form of paid employment. Supporting young people to scope out their future pathways means they will be able to take their place in society and increase their chances of employment – making an active and meaningful contribution, knowing that they are valued for ‘who they are’ not just what they can do. As part of these supported internships, businesses can also benefit greatly, including increased capacity, while giving young people with SEN an opportunity of a lifetime and helping to foster a more diverse community within the workplace. However, true success is dependent on more organisations getting involved to provide these opportunities, and with a truly collaborative approach to all parties – including schools, colleges, training providers, employers – and with the Government’s help, we can really scale up these efforts and transform young peoples’ lives.

Providing young people with the support and opportunities needed to re-engage with education, employment and training opportunities will mean that we are not only developing well-rounded and knowledgeable citizens with the skills employers are demanding, but also safeguarding our future workforce. This is the key to shaping a more positive, supportive, and inclusive community culture.

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