On Wednesday, politicians, journalists, youth workers and young people exchanged views at the Class of 2012 debate hosted by Channel 4 News and Channel 4's Battlefront on the subject of youth unemployment. Appropriately enough, the tag line for the first session was "The Lost Generation." On the panel sat Liam Preston from the British Youth Council, Labour MP Stella Creasy and Conservative MP Damian Collins and with the legendary Jon Snow chairing the debate. And that's what it was, a full on debate.
What I particularly wanted to hammer home was the fact that long-term youth unemployment has risen by 246% in the past year alone (Office of National Statistics) and the frightening thing is it rose again this month. So whilst politicians may be smiling about overall unemployment figures going down, the sad truth is that our situation isn't getting any better. After the welcomes and croissants it was time to sit down.
I think Jon Snow's opening words were really moving, he mentioned The New Horizon Youth Centre of which he is a chairman and said that, once young people came in with homelessness and health issues, now they were coming in with real concerns about the state of their future because there are not enough jobs to go round.
I was first to stand up with the microphone and the question I posed was "how would the panel offer help to those who are long-term unemployed?", to which Damian Collins mentioned the value of work experience and recalled a past experience of one young person who was happily busking to cover his travel expenses for his internship.
Liam Preston said he felt "insulted" by that comment and it left me thinking, has it come to the stage where we have to take up singing songs on street corners to get to work every day? After Damian Collins suggested to me getting as much work experience as possible, Jon Snow exclaimed, "But she does have work experience...in a call centre."
At that I posed the question of what happens when you've got the work experience but employers are almost too scared to take a young person on? Maybe employers need training themselves on how to deal and interact with young people in the workplace? Or is it just a case of them not wanting to babysit us? The issue of transport came up and Stella Creasy made a point of it being too expensive for young people travelling to and from work and even those going for job interviews.
The second session was more business focussed and the chair was Faisal Islam, with Justin King CEO of Sainsbury's, Lucy Marcus CEO of Marcus Venture Consultants, David Milliband MP and Ronan Dunn CEO of O2. It was just as interesting; with these big bosses telling us what they thought young people should do to help themselves.
At times I thought the advice was a little unrealistic, for example Justin King was emphasising how important emotion was in a CV. To which one audience member asked, "Well how do I fit that on two pages after all the other relevant stuff?" David Milliband made an excellent point, that this country needs to be more serious about youth unemployment. He said "one in 50 will get a job through the Work Programme," a statistic which said it all really and backed up my point about more needing to be done.
With figures standing as they are, it will take a lot more than events like this to help but at least there is a common urgency to do something about the situation. We need to keep talking.
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