In conversation with young people: opportunities and challenges for good quality work in a post-pandemic world
1 Jun 2021
The impact of the pandemic on young people’s lives is a key topic of discussion. While the issues are being amplified, there is a trend for their voices to be relegated relative to commentary of ‘professionals’. Part of my mission as a Health Foundation Fellow is to bring young people’s voices to the fore. I am also involved in building youth-led approaches through the Youth Voices Forum (YVF), a Youth Employment Group (YEG) initiative, providing opportunity for young people to discuss their views on employment matters, ensuring these are embedded in the YEG’s policy-influencing work.
At a recent session, young people shared valuable insights which dug deep into the issue of good quality work. We started by discussing the role of education and training in improving better job prospects. The youth representatives called for well-publicised and accessible short, accredited training courses to boost CVs and improve chances of entering sustainable work. They prioritised this for those with lower qualifications, little work experience, and barriers to engaging with more intensive employment measures such as sector-based work academies and traineeships. They also focused on soft skills and asked for a universal, training-based approach to confidence-building, particularly around recruitment processes, to help overcome obstacles to young people moving into and progressing in work. They thought this should be embedded in day-to-day educational activities, and employability classes in school.
The young people also highlighted the potential for innovation in recruitment, improving access to good work through harnessing the use of technology and remote working. They saw this as an opportunity to improve access to jobs which otherwise would require relocation, and to mitigate higher living costs. Young people saw the prospect of breaking physical boundaries to access better employment, or better employment conditions, as key to government efforts to ‘level up’, alongside equal access to digital skills and tools and greater focus on disadvantaged groups.
The young people stressed that we’re still far from ensuring all young people get a fair and good start in the labour market. With the long-term youth unemployment rate climbing higher, it doesn't look like young people are getting a fair chance to enter work, let alone good quality work. They felt there is scope for increased government action, from introducing policies on quotas for young people, to encouraging adoption of alternative recruitment practices such as work trials. But policy action is not sufficient on its own. Young people want more and better information about local labour markets and employer requirements, and better tailored work experience opportunities to get the right exposure for the jobs they want. Given longstanding policy aims to achieve these ambitions, consultation with young people may mean strategies can be found that are both youth-friendly and engaging.
While access to information, and ensuring recruitment practices are supportive, are key building blocks, the workplace is where good intentions need to come to fruition. Fear and stigma in reporting work quality issues are widespread. The group felt that when young employees report quality issues at work, this can be dismissed as unjustified complaints, given their age or background. One YVF participant shared their experience of not being given adequate information about their rights and responsibilities at work. They were met with hostility when trying to report a quality issue, leading to negative impacts on their mental health. Another, from an ethnic minority background, talked about working for an employer where they felt that any issues they reported would be dismissed as being exclusive to them, due to their ethnicity.
Potential solutions were discussed, and young people expressed wanting to see more use of online platforms and tools to report quality issues at work, such as anonymised employee surveys, alongside better education to support cultural change among employers, developing a mindset whereby young people’s feedback is encouraged and valued. Linked to this, one participant suggested that employers who are signatories of quality marks such as the Good Youth Employment Charter should be regularly audited, ensuring commitments are fulfilled and sustain their efforts to support good quality work and workplaces. They also viewed improvements to employer practices around representation of different groups of people as important. This means a deep-level commitment, focused on active recruitment and support of different groups at all career levels, leading to young people feeling safe and represented in the workplace.
These young people conveyed the depth and value of exploring lived experience to understand and improve employment which in turn impacts on young people’s health and wider life outcomes. As we emerge from the pandemic, we should question what role young people should play in shaping policies which directly affect their employment, their wellbeing, and their future – hopefully, the answer is that no role should be more central than theirs.
Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.