Recent headlines regarding young people, and the future they believe they face, are worrying. Notably, a 2014 report by the Prince's Trust has shown that due to a perceived lack of overall career and education opportunities there has been a dramatic decrease in motivation and ambition in this country's younger population, especially in those from financially unstable backgrounds.
I believe that a young person's future is dictated, in large part, by their own determination and perseverance coupled with access to meaningful education, support, and experience. But this report would indicate that there is a big problem here.
The research suggests that there are over 430,000 young people in the UK who are facing long-term unemployment. An estimated 40% of those are expected to have experienced symptoms of mental illness as a direct result of not being able to find jobs.
Another recent poll, commissioned by national charity YoungMinds, suggests that over half of young people believe that they will become a failure if they don't get good grades at school. Lucie Russell, the Director of campaigns at the charity says that this, and their bleak employment prospects, is also having a "toxic effect" on young people's wellbeing.
If it wasn't clear enough before - it is now. Giving young people the right opportunities to develop and get into work is critical. Not just for the sake of the economy but for the mental wellbeing of a generation.
I'm not saying the solution is simple. It isn't. But there are simple steps that can be taken to help. For one, stop pointing the finger. It's easy for critics to say that those not in education, employment and training (NEETS) in some way choose unemployment because they are idle or can't be bothered to put the effort in. It's a ridiculous and unhelpful sentiment.
What is surely much more helpful is for all of us, the education sector in particular, to help young people believe in their own abilities and support their ambitions by showing them that there are many existing, but often unnoticed, education and career options available to them.
They need to know that there is no single 'right way' to succeed.
Going to university, part-time study or taking on an apprenticeship; they are all valid routes (and there are many more) which between them, cater of a wide gamut of learning objectives, budgets and backgrounds. But do young people know that these different options are open to them? I don't think they do - certainly not to the extent that they should.
And what about those young people who are in employment but not a career - those who feel stuck because they need cash from a job they don't like, but don't have the qualifications to get on their ideal career path? Do they know that, in many cases, time spent in the workplace can actually count towards getting them onto a degree course? Do they know it's not all about the grades you got at school?
Again, I suspect not. But just think how many people would benefit from knowing and understanding this.
Sites such as notgoingtouni.co.uk are doing a great job in helping to raise awareness of just how many options there are - explaining the different paths available. I'm witnessing more universities diversifying in terms of the study formats they offer and how they promote them. At RDI, we do our best to ensure we provide as much information as possible about student finance, careers support and the many different entry points available for different course types. These are all steps in the right direction - it's about promoting options and opportunities.
To know you've got choices is motivating. To know that studying for a degree does not have to cost the earth is motivating. To know that part-time students have the same access to tuition fee loans as those going away to university - that is motivating.
I'm not advocating one route above and beyond another. My point, backed by the findings of these recent reports, is that I believe young people are all too often held back by their own misconceptions about what success looks like and, more importantly, the belief that there is only one way to get there.
There is a 'right choice' for everyone but how can young people be expected to get anywhere if they don't even know they have 'choice' to begin with?
By investing more time and effort into explaining and presenting the wide range of learning and development opportunities available, we can help ensure that young people don't feel imprisoned by their own circumstances, and help them to know that they can and should be ambitious about their future.