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Youth unemployment: We all know that life is not a level playing field

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Youth unemployment: We all know that life is not a level playing field

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Communities

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Gail Walters, head of community investment at Midland Heart, reflects on social mobility in Britain and the impact that it has on youth unemployment.

You could say that for some, life is like playing on a premiership pitch: even and predictable; set up to enable you to perform at your best and achieve the best outcomes. OK, life has a habit of throwing the odd bad tackle or headwind, but generally you can recover from these setbacks.

For others, however, life is more like playing uphill on a boggy, bumpy Sunday League pitch in the pouring rain in November. You try your best, but those divots and bumps are going to continually trip you up until you feel like there is no point trying; and all the while people are shouting at you from the side-lines to ‘Do Better!’ and ‘Try Harder!’ (or worse).

Research shows that the most socially and economically disadvantaged young people have the most limited knowledge and awareness of the labour market, and we know that youth unemployment is concentrated in the most socially deprived and economically challenged communities; whose pitch is ultimately bumpier than most.

Britain has one of the worst social mobility records in the developed world; if you are born poor in Britain your kids are more likely to be poor than any other country in the developed world and there are a lot of young people who are struggling to compete in today’s market who are pitched against those who have everything going for them.

Until we respond to these challenges and level the playing field, we will never solve the problems of youth unemployment

So how do we smooth out the divots in the pitch to give as many young people an even chance in life?

My view is that the best means to equip young people to be work-ready is to give them a job with the necessary work-based support to enable them to make the transition. For the most disadvantaged, this means providing them with pastoral support to address the environmental, social and family issues which so often prevent them from succeeding in the workplace.

I speak to a lot of employers who describe scenarios where they and their staff have felt ill-equipped to help individuals abide by the rules of the game. Such as the young person who: cannot afford lunch and discloses that they have no money for food for the rest of the month; the one who divulges a serious situation of domestic violence at home; or the one who performs very well in the workplace, but whose attendance is patchy and they are obviously struggling as a carer for a parent or sibling.

At Midland Heart we do not go for the usual premiership suspects. Through partnerships with agencies such as the Albion Foundation, we actively seek to give opportunity to those who need it most.

We have attempted to level the playing field by putting in place a ‘wrap around’ system of support for our ‘Back on Track’ apprentices which means we have specialist workers who address such pastoral issues for young people and their families, thus freeing up mentors and managers to concentrate on ensuring that our apprentices are able to succeed in the workplace.

Midland Heart’s Back on Track programme has demonstrated that the most disadvantaged young people are capable of achieving amazing things if given the right encouragement and support, and are valued and welcomed. Not only that, they bring a new energy to the workplace; other employees like having them around.

We’re dedicated to making a real difference to those in greatest need and every day we go out there to deliver services that others would consider risky, because it is only when you flex that ‘risk muscle’ you can be sure you’re being truly innovative.

Now we need employers to play their part in creating opportunity. Dare I suggest, but we have got out of the habit of employing young people because they do require more nurturing, particularly in the early months. But unless employers play their part and step away from the side lines, these damning statistics will never improve.

• It is time to see young people as possibilities in terms of investment rather than victims or recipients in need of charity.

• We need to provide a proper induction to adulthood for all young people especially those who do not get that in a family setting.

• We need to develop inter-agency partnerships which address the genuine issues faced by young people, rather than draw a curtain across these and focus on ‘employability’.

We can develop, advise and support other employers to help equalise the playing field. It is time to create alternative delivery and partnership models which will address the crisis we are in – and help level the playing field so that the competition is open to everyone regardless of the league they play in.

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