THE BLOG

Solving the UK's Young People Crisis Requires a Change in Attitude

12/04/2016 15:10

On a daily basis we are faced with the same rhetoric: Young people in the UK don't have the skills required to be successful; and that upskilling is key to addressing youth unemployment.

The age-old narrative goes something like this: teaching skills will enable young people to achieve career success and consequently be able to live a positive life.

The logic makes a lot of sense - and we support the teaching of skills - but the reality is that a greater and more significant challenge comes before this, which is often forgotten.

In the UK, over 600,000 16-24 year-olds are currently unemployed - an alarming figure. The reality is actually even worse; as many more currently sit at risk of becoming a statistic classified as not in employment, education or training (NEET).

Leading a charity that supports young people facing disadvantage, I've been exposed to the complex and diverse range of factors which have led to this situation.

Every young person is different, however one consistent theme across the young people we work with is a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. It's sad to see thousands of young people who have lost all belief and optimism that they will ever be able to lead a positive life.

Developing skills will always be important for this group. However, without focus, determination, confidence, resilience and motivation, young people will always struggle to find educational and career success, lead a healthy lifestyle or get involved in meaningful activities.

Enhancing these attitudes within young people is a core issue that needs addressing so they are able to make good decisions. The young people we work with have great potential - it just needs to be fully realised by themselves, which will then empower them to make positive life choices.

This is why it's concerning to see a rise in the amount of short-term intervention programmes, solely focused on equipping young people with only the entry level skills needed to enter employment, education or training.

Supporting a young person to secure a job is essential, however there must also be a strong focus on preparing them for the inevitable challenges that will arise further down the line.

By failing to consider the personal, social and emotional development of young people, we are treating all young people the same. Everyone has their own challenges and they must be dealt with on an individual basis.

The challenges that we all face can send some of societies most vulnerable into a downwards spiral of instability and depression - the latter a scarring effect of long-term unemployment. This is why we should always be striving to prepare young people for the long-term and instil a resolution for life, instead of watching them slip back into the same situation.

The art of strong mentorship coupled with an attitudes based approach is vital to solving this challenge; and it needs incorporating into more programmes delivered across the UK.

We need to move away quickly from short-term outcomes and focus on long-term success. What we ultimately need is to make a sustainable investment and intervention which carries the test of time.

This requires us as a sector who support young people facing disadvantage (and more importantly those who fund us) to be brave and see the bigger picture.

From my experience, delivering transformational change is unlikely to be achieved if programmes are run like a supermarket conveyor belt. Quickly scanning young people through a couple of highly attended sessions will never have a lasting impact - even if does look impressive in the annual report!

It has been particularly heartening in recent years to see a number of funding agencies move to a longer term impact led approach, which has to be the way forward.

In the current social and economic climate, with issues such as mental health and poverty hitting the headlines as prevalent issues, young people are going to require these attitudes - in particular resilience - more than ever over the coming years. It's our responsibility to make sure the support is available to bring these out and empower young people to lead their own positive lives.

For more information on how Dame Kelly Holmes Trust has empowered thousands of young people facing disadvantage in the UK through their unique mentoring programmes led by world class athletes visit www.damekellyholmestrust.org.

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