How to support young people into employment post-COVID
On Wednesday 12th May, Prince’s Trust International, supported by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Youth Forum team, facilitated a webinar on ‘Taking Charge of our Future: How to support young people into employment post-Covid’.
The webinar was youth-led and commenced with representatives Beatrice Ayinkamiye from Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) in Rwanda, Tyra Chase from Caius House in the UK, and Merlyn Fernandes from Teach For India. The responding panel consisted of H.E. Milton Inniss, High Commissioner for Barbados to the UK (representing government), Michael Narty, trustee of Prince’s Trust International and a Managing Director at Barclays (representing the private sector) and Sharmi Surianarain, Chief Impact Officer of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator (representing civil society). Honourable Rosemary Mbabazi, Minister of Youth and Culture, Rwanda, gave closing remarks.
Many points relating to young people’s employment prospects during the pandemic were presented but four key areas stood out:
No stand-alone organisation or sector can do it alone. Each actor in the movement has its own merits, which will fall short if implemented on its own. To implement change and support youth, we need partnerships across the board. As Sharmi Surianarain said:
“If you need to go deep, go with community organisations. If you need to go wide, go with government. If you need to go fast, go with the private sector, but if you need to go far, you have to go together.”
Different young people come with different backgrounds, abilities, and skillsets. They cannot be typecast and will need to be met with a diverse and supportive working environment to properly harness their potential. We need to strengthen the idea of inclusion and be intentional about diversifying approaches to employment. As Michael Nartey said:
“Businesses need to be much, much bolder about the way we go out and recruit young people.”
Closing skills gaps
We need to ensure that the youth have the emotional intelligence and 21st century skills needed for the current labour market. We need to design curricula that reflect the actual needs of economies and support the development of adaptive skillsets to accommodate the swiftly changing skills needs. As Beatrice Ayinkamiye said:
“What we have seen all over the world is that Covid has really exposed some of the gaps within our systems, and we think it is the role of the government to fill in these gaps.”
Equal access for all youths
We need to highlight and remove barriers promoting unequal access to employment opportunities for young people. As Merlyn Fernandes said:
“When it comes to employment, the background of the youth, which includes your economic background, the caste and the religion you belong to, it really affects access and exposure to employment opportunities”
Despite the webinar’s youth panel representing three different continents, we witnessed evident overlaps between the challenges presented. The following conclusions and recommendations were made by discussants.
Young people are encouraged to be proactive and seek opportunities such as internships, yet many young people across the globe face discrimination and financial barriers in doing so. It is expensive to be a young work-seeker. All stakeholders are urged to implement measures to prevent unpaid internships, which not every young person can afford to sustain. Governments, private sector and civil society must come together to support youth into employment opportunities. Governments must support on access to relevant skilling and tools and provide incentives for businesses to set up effective and supportive apprenticeship and internship programmes focused on equal access. The private sector must dare to look beyond the usual university graduates and implement measures to support young people from diverse backgrounds into employment. Civil society must support in amplifying youth voices and providing training opportunities that focus on tangible employment outcomes.
Another repeated suggestion concerned the inclusion of youth in decision-making. ‘Nothing can be done about youth without youth,’ as the mantra goes. Every young person has huge potential that needs to be unlocked with tripartite support to truly be harnessed. Young people are the future and not the problem. If we do not invest in supporting and developing our young people, we are neglecting our future.
- Governments are encouraged to invest heavily in education, update curricula to reflect 21st century skills which meet the actual needs of economies and foster quick learning for youth to adapt to changes in skills demand.
- It is important to work with youth organisations and business leaders to evaluate long-term how these needs will materialise and how they can be met.
- To ensure equal access to opportunities, governments should update systems to include everyone, e.g. by providing access to digital skills and tools, and to incentivise businesses to hire, train and give opportunities to youth with different backgrounds.
- Governments are furthermore encouraged to provide safety nets for young people losing jobs or businesses during the pandemic and to support them in getting into or back into work.
- The private sector should not wait for government to fill the gaps. There are many measures that businesses can implement to support youth.
- Young people are entrepreneurial, but this is often out of necessity. Businesses need to be more accommodating of young people by providing training and increase their uptake of entry-level jobs.
- Businesses are encouraged to be bolder in their recruitment processes and provide equal opportunities for young people, as well as diversify and ensure that the whole community is represented in all levels of their organisation.
- Businesses need to consider the financial aspects of opportunities. Not everyone can afford to apply for jobs or take an unpaid internship. To have a diverse workforce, businesses should remove barriers promoting unequal access and explore ways of harvesting the innovation and creativity inherent in young people, as well as invest in effective apprenticeship and internship programmes.
- Further recommendations to financial institutions included finding ways of supporting young entrepreneurs, rather than focusing only on large corporations. For example, allowing smaller assets as collateral instead of property.
- Civil society is already supporting youth by amplifying voices, highlighting barriers, and sharing stories. However, there is more to be done.
- Currently, large investments are made in training programmes for youth that do not necessarily have specific outcomes apart from occasional certificates. Civil society is recommended to work with the private sector and government to secure employment activities in relation to training, ensuring tangible outcomes for the youth engaging in these programmes.
- Civil society should consider making their programmes and best practices a public good, by sharing it widely for other implementation agencies to adopt as per their context.
- Civil society is furthermore encouraged to diversify their products and services to fit more specific needs as well as become more inclusive of youth that are usually excluded, for example, due to physical distance, disabilities, or access to tools.
- The young people themselves were presented with a series of suggested actions to support themselves and their peers. They are recommended to embrace life-long learning and utilise the available resources for gaining knowledge.
- Young people are encouraged to develop a can-do attitude, staying relevant, pro-active and adaptive to changing work environments and cultures.
- Government representatives at the webinar highlighted the importance of volunteering in local communities, which will support in building experience, growing their networks, and helping each other.