This time last week, teens across the country anxiously received their GCSE results - arguably a more nervous time than it was for my generation when we were the same age. Why? Well, previously each generation has been able to look at its parents with the expectation that they will grow-up to have better and more prosperous lives than those that preceded them. However, with an increasing pressure on jobs and university places, a need for more extracurricular skills above and beyond academic, and the current economic climate, it's no surprise that recent research by us, National Citizen Service (NCS), revealed that half of British teenagers worry that they'll be less successful than their parents. Amidst this pessimistic backdrop, however, we see signs that it doesn't have to be this way.
Instead of being shackled by doom and gloom, contrastingly, young people are instead realizing that there is a whole new wave of opportunities there for the taking. As well as highlighting the anxieties that many young people understandably face, our research also emphasizes the astonishing entrepreneurial spirit that this generation possess, with more than half of teens (52%) stating that they had considered setting up their own business in response to concerns about getting a good job*.
Moreover, almost three quarters of teens (73%) feel that the rise of mobile technology and social media have made it easier for them to set up their own business than ever before. Young people are constantly sharing the stories of 13 year old Justin Bieber launching to global superstar, Jamal Edwards making his way by following his passion and Nick D'Aloisio who saw a niche and went after it, selling Summly to Yahoo. With 6 in 10 teens (64%) believing they haven't yet developed leadership skills, and almost a third of young people felt a lack of confidence was a key challenge to their future, they're increasingly aware of the importance of skills that can only be learnt outside of the classroom - skills for work and life. Skills that will help them overcome the pessimism.
It's exactly this need for skills and a desire to build confidence and be independent that we aim to tap into and encourage through our work with NCS. Indeed, the program was founded for precisely this reason. It's our goal to help equip young people with the skills they need and provide a safe but fun environment where teenagers from any and all backgrounds come together and help prepare themselves for their future. Government backed, NCS is a two or three week program, plus 30 hours committed to a community project, open to all 16-17 year olds in England, offering a series of challenges and tools that benefit both young people and society. In every programme teens will experience four sections that focus on personal and social development including leadership, teamwork and communication skills. The first week is spent at an outward bound facility participating in activities such as abseiling, water rafting and canoeing. The second week, teens live away from home, typically at local university halls of residence, learning how to be self-sufficient, developing new skills and finding out more about the needs of their local community. They are given the opportunity to create, pitch and ultimately in the final week, deliver a social action project that their community benefits from. Vitally, graduates are supported and encouraged to continue their service, either with some of the country's great civil service organisations or independently.
And whilst we're still fairly new, recent independent evaluation by NatCen** shows that it's working. Over 9 in 10 (92%) young people who took part in the programme felt they had developed useful skills for the future and nearly three-quarters (73%) felt more confident about getting a job in the future. In terms of teamwork, 95% of our graduates felt they had a chance to know people they wouldn't normally mix with and also have a greater propensity to help out in future.
Whilst these statistics speak for themselves, it's the individual stories of growth that truly inspire. We're immensely proud of the achievements of our graduates. One representative example is NCS graduate Robert Austin founded the online project Teenwise in a bid to counter the often unfairly negative depictions of teenagers in the mainstream media. As Robert's efforts show on a regular basis, this is a generation who are hugely passionate about making the world a better place.
Ultimately, this is a generation that understands self-reliance; they want to get ahead, but they want to give back too, and when they do, it opens their eyes to wanting to make the world a better place. This is a generation that wants to say 'Yes'.
Amidst the maelstrom of unfair media coverage portraying teenagers in a negative light, it's easy to forget that they may well turn out to be the most active and entrepreneurial generation that we've ever produced. We owe it to them to do everything we can to encourage and help them. The future of this country is in their hands and we want to support them with the best opportunities available. NCS was created to build young people's confidence, prospects and motivation by giving them the skills and tools to help change, not just their future, but change the world around them. Who knows, from where I sit, I think they might go on to become our greatest generation.
* Survey of 1000 teenagers aged 15-18 conducted by One Poll July 2013
**To view the independent evaluation please go to http://www.natcen.ac.uk/study/national-citizen-service-evaluation
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