How can organisations help curb rising youth unemployment?

Many under-25s are facing lack of opportunity, job losses and furloughing because of the Covid crisis, says Sam Olsen  

It was reported at the start of the year that the number of young people in employment has fallen by 231,000, with those claiming unemployment benefits increasing by 119 per cent. People aged 16-24 are one of the most at risk demographics as a result of Covid in terms of lack of opportunity, job losses and furloughing, and we have yet to see the full effects of the unprecedented disturbance to their education and the trauma of having their social lives disrupted at vulnerable ages. 

Movement to Work (MtW) is a coalition of UK employers, youth-outreach organisations, training providers and government allies who are aiming to level the playing field for those aged 16-30 facing barriers to work. As part of the MtW Emerge Stronger campaign, we have framed a possible path to recovery around three key pillars for employers to build back better in these unprecedented times.

Young people first

Research has shown that disadvantaged young people will be among the worst affected groups as a result of the Covid crisis, yet we believe they could also be the smartest solution to building back our workforces. MtW encourages organisations to prioritise young people as part of their forward-looking strategy, particularly those with diverse backgrounds when it comes to race, disability and those furthest from the job market. These young people will inject fresh energy and different perspectives. They can also help to develop and motivate existing staff members through mentorship and, as digital natives, young people are well poised to fulfil skills shortages in digital, technology and green industries. 

Be accessible, go digital

The pandemic has forced many businesses to rapidly launch online solutions to enable remote working and digital training. MtW can offer advice and best practice, including sharing tools and initiatives to support accessibility. 

However, digital exclusion in the UK can now clearly be seen as one further aspect of the inequalities that face us today. Only 51 per cent of households earning less than £10k have internet access, compared to 99 per cent of households earning over £40k. With tech donation schemes targeting younger children and homeschooling, thoughts should now turn equally to school leavers and young jobseekers. 

We also know that, even where young people are connected, mental health and wellbeing harbours other causes for concern. A recent report published by YoungMinds revealed that 80 per cent of young people agreed that the pandemic had made their mental health worse. So MtW urges organisations to continue online work experience for young people in the short term. But in the long term we encourage employers to keep their focus on getting young people back into the physical workplace so they can develop the skills we are starting to take for granted.  

Support and empower

Covid has been a shock to the system, presenting us all with new professional and personal challenges. We must be hypersensitive to the fact that young people are among the most likely to fall into negative behaviour patterns. We must help them feel a part of society by giving them new opportunities to improve their prospects, putting ‘money in their pockets’ and enabling bright futures ahead of them. We need to be switched on so that down the line, when we see a CV of a young person who dropped out of college in September 2020, we’ll realise it was probably down to mounting stress rather than a lack of intelligence or laziness. 

MtW will be hosting its annual summit on 24 February for business leaders and young people, where they will be discussing the most pressing issues and how to tackle them in the year ahead.

Sam Olsen is CEO of youth employment charity Movement to Work