As millions of Young People return to schools, colleges and universities the concerns about a second wave of the global Covid-19 pandemic gather speed, and with it further limitations on our liberties to fight the virus. It feels like the A-levels and B-TEC fiascos are getting more distant by the day.
The implications for Young People in the global pandemic are as obvious as they are heartbreaking. Whilst concerns about students’ mental wellbeing and their access to services and education are real and worrysome [https://www.ukyouth.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/UK-Youth-Covid-19-Impact-Report-External-Final-08.04.20.pdf], the long term economics loom heavy and stark for Young People. Last week, on the same day as the Social Mobility Commission reported that outcomes for Young People were entrenched within those of the areas they grew up, The Office for National Statistics announced that Young People bore the brunt of job losses caused by the pandemic [https://www.cypnow.co.uk/news/article/young-people-worst-hit-by-impact-of-covid-19-on-jobs-market-ons-reveals].
It has been shown that past economic crises disproportionately affect Young People: prospects in education and work are as bleak during the crisis as they are slow and stunted following it; and those Young People living through a crisis are more likely to experience social exclusion in the longer term. In short, it can affect social mobility in both mind and pocket. To the pandemic then: in July the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned [https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14914] that Young People were more likely than other workers “to be employed in sectors that have been effectively shut down as part of the UK lockdown and they are more likely to have lost their jobs since then” and warned of long term impacts on the employment prospects of Young People today. These concerns have shown time and again to be real.
Working with students, I am already hearing the anxiety from students about their future prospects. This anxiety is fuelled by a sense of loss of control and, at times, a defeated feeling that, no matter what they do, their options may be limited. The handful of participants in this article, [https://theconversation.com/how-the-coronavirus-pandemic-is-affecting-young-peoples-career-plans-143860] How the coronavirus pandemic is affecting young people’s career plans, can reasonably be applied to millions of Young People today.
So what role for Youth Workers?
A central role for Youth Workers is supporting Young People to identify options and take proactive steps. For those spending time with Young People, how do we offer hope when we, ourselves, are only too aware of the challenges facing them?
Like most challenges, we find hope by talking things through and trying to reassess and recentre ourselves in a more positive reality. For those engaging in discussion with Young People, the Future Skills Questionnaire [https://www.careersandenterprise.co.uk/schools-colleges/tools/future-skills] might be a good start. It asks respondents to rate themselves on satisfaction, personal effectiveness, career readiness and employability skills. Once complete, it may provide a means for discussion on why they have rated themselves in a certain way and allow discussion on their ambitions and strengths, relating this to the job market challenges foreseen. The next steps are to talk about connecting their current reality to a more opportunistic one where, even if the jobs market stifles, their aspirations don’t.
In times of low opportunity, it might be opportunistic to build resilience. If I can’t work, how can I build skills or experiences that will not only bolster future work chances, but will make me feel better about myself and about the world? This latter aspect is crucial: it’s not just Young People’s economic potential which is at risk, but their impact in, and engagement with, society too.
When I started out in my career with University students, I remember a tool I used when trying to develop volunteers: The Art of Crazy Paving [https://issuu.com/alexmac/docs/master_sv_dec08].
Whilst the document is not immediately relatable to many Youth Work settings (it is Higher Education orientated), it might provide a helpful model for talking about volunteering or work experience in a time when ‘building resilience’ could be a good idea. When working with Young People, I found it helpful because it started with motivation and asks participants about the wider values people tend to have about work once they’re in it. It also acknowledges that the accumulation of experiences is an increasingly important currency for the labour market.
For Youth Work organisations we can’t ignore the risk to social mobility and aspiration to the communities we support. Youth Employment UK have setup a weekly virtual teleconference, their Youth Employment Group [https://www.youthemployment.org.uk/the-youth-employment-group-how-can-young-people-get-involved/], which may provide a means to hear about the challenges more broadly and what work or action could be done by the Youth Sector.
Ensuring proper and wide discussion among the Youth Work community would probably go a long way to bolstering how we can support Young People in the years ahead; engaging local politicians is as important as ever; and Young People may require safe spaces to air their anxieties about their futures.