International Youth Day 2021: Investing in the future

Held annually on the 12th of August, International Youth Day celebrates the qualities of young people and recognises the challenges that today’s youth can face.

The pandemic has been an incredibly difficult period of time for everyone, but young people have been hit especially hard. This year, International Youth Day has coincided with GCSE and A-Level results week. With this year’s crop of school and college leavers entering one of the most volatile job markets in history, never has it been more important to shine a light on the problems facing young people. 

Not only are there currently 166,000 fewer young people aged 16 to 24 employed compared to before the pandemic; but recent research has found that 43% of young people feel the pandemic has harmed their long-term career prospects.

As young people continue to bear the brunt of job losses, more needs to be done to help school and university leavers looking to join the labour market – and those embarking on their first few years in the workforce. 

Help young people become job market ready

Unemployment for 16-24 year olds in the UK has increased by 13% since the start of the pandemic. Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President EMEA at Skillsoft, explains that for many, investment in skills support will be key to addressing both the disruption in the UK labour market, as well as the growing digital skills gap. “Last year, the government launched a Kickstart Scheme to help organisations employ young people and take on apprentices. This has been key to helping address the skills gap faced in the UK and help young people take advantage of the opportunities in the tech sector. 

“However still, 34% of young people do not currently feel equipped to compete in the job market. It’s time to focus on the next generation of tech talent. Organisations that open up technical training and development to a wider candidate base, encourage and support more female employees to develop the skills required to fill identified gaps, and implement life-long learning for employees will be most likely to create the workforce they need to compete into the future with confidence.”

Putting wellbeing first

For many young people who have entered the labour market in the last eighteen months, or those in the early stages of their careers, they have also faced the additional challenges of working remotely. This International Youth Day, it’s fundamental to tackle the issues linked with remote working and promote the opportunities that come with it – to ensure young people don’t miss out. 

After all, recent research has shown that the youngest members of the workforce have been most impacted by the effects of COVID and remote working, with barely over a third of them receiving regular check-ins with their manager.

“Without being in employment long enough to form a deep-rooted support system, and instead being shut away in their homes, the younger generations are being left to fend for themselves without the necessary tools to thrive,” explains Gillian Mahon, Chief People and Places Officer, Totalmobile.

“As a result, it has never been more important to implement the correct technology and communication strategies to engage employees. Today’s 18 – 24 year olds need to be given the opportunities to network with senior members of their organisation, receive mentorship from experienced colleagues, and be offered the opportunity to receive regular feedback and check-ins to drive their progression. Investing in training in both soft skills and digital skills can also be invaluable to young people’s prospects, no matter the sector they end up working in – even jobs that have traditionally been thought of as manual are becoming increasingly more reliant on innovative technologies.

“Not only will practices like this encourage better communication and employee wellbeing, but they will also enable the younger generation to grow into their full potential as the future of their companies.”

Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru agrees: “Whilst some have thrived in lockdown, others have found the whole experience quite isolating, so we began a weekly survey of our teams’ emotional state towards the end of each week. They are asked how they felt emotionally on a sliding scale of 1-5. Anyone scoring three or under has been offered help. We also put in place a new health scheme for all, which includes confidential access to professional mental health practitioners.

“We found that it was harder for our younger people that might not have their own space and share accommodation. By measuring their wellbeing, we have been able to offer support, in a programme coordinated by our people and culture team. We found that our colleagues have been very open and honest about how they feel, and as a company we are getting better at these ‘soft skills’. The leaders of every department also come together in a team call of our top 30 managers at 9am every day, to report on what’s going on in their domain for a couple of minutes apiece. This means we are able to take a temperature check on every aspect of our business from every regional office – whether that be in Japan, The Netherlands, Germany or the US.”

Future fit

Recently, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, warned that if companies don’t return to the office soon, young people could ‘miss out’ on the benefits of in-person mentorship and communication. However, whether working from a board room or their bedroom, young people need to be supported so they can integrate, work and progress the best they can. 

“In times of crisis, the number one thing you should do is stay in touch,” highlights Richard Hamaker, Senior HR Business Partner at Leaseweb Global. “At Leaseweb we kept this top of mind, and started regularly calling and checking in with our staff, including inviting them to chat, not via Zoom or Teams, but by walking on the phone, and supporting them through the change process. We introduced workshops about mindset, and had regular conversations with those who started to indicate that they were having a difficult time. During such challenging times, the feeling that somebody is there for you is the most important and only thing you can do.

“It’s also really important to focus on the fun. Laughing is good for engagement, it tickles the brain, and it’s a great energiser. Have a funny dance moment, make a joke, or share stories. At our company we set up a Survival Team for sharing stories, making fun videos and generally creating a safe space where people feel that they belong and are supported. At the close of each of his shows, Jerry Springer always reminded his audience to ‘take care of yourself, and each other.’ And that’s how it should be.”

“On International Youth Day this year, I — and the team at Aqilla — have reflected on the challenges faced by young people, and we sincerely hope that life will return to a greater degree of normality with the start of the new academic year,” concludes Hugh Scantlebury, Founder, Director & CEO, Aqilla. “From our work with Young Citizens, we know all-too-well that young people long to reengage with all parts of society — including the democratic process — and it’s our strong hope that, together, we’ll emerge from the pandemic, stronger, kinder, and more focused on our collective futures than ever before.”


Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2021

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