Making it Work for Young People

Sadie is one of the 21.3% of young people in the UK whose lives are stalled by the lack of employment opportunity on statistics released yesterday. She is one of the 114,000 young people in the UK who have, only over the summer, joined the queue waiting for a chance to fulfill their potential through work. She is one of the more-than 1 in 5 and rising young adults whose ambitions are being stymied, confidence eroded and self esteem sucked out by the day side-lined from gainful employment.

Training for work at Cyrenians Farm

Sadie graduated with a first from Glasgow University in May. She’s a creative, energetic 22 year old. Since her 16th birthday she’s always worked, alongside studying. She’s been a barista, cleaner, waitress,  till worker, coat check girl… In her spare time she’s played violin with the Scottish Schools Orchestra, toured with experimental Glasgow band Yahweh, volunteered with kiddies and asylum seekers and travelled. Bright, highly personable and ambitious to make a positive contribution to the world, you’d think a young woman like Sadie would be embraced and nurtured by the working world? But then I would think that, wouldn’t I? I’m her Dad.

She’ll be alright. But what chance in the current state of things for some of the young people who we work with at Cyrenians? Each one as precious a human being as my Sadie, and equally deserving of the chance to contribute and be rewarded by work. But in our residential service, for example, over 70% had damaged childhoods, most left school without qualifications, half have offending records and 50% are trying to manage diagnosed mental health issues. It’s tricky because Cyrenians believe every one of them should be on a pathway and have aspirations and the prospect of a rewarding working life, but we’ve got to be realistic. Even if jobs were out there, it’s a heck of a long steep path for the young people carrying the heaviest burdens and least equipped to carry them.

What can be done? Practically I mean. For young people with mainstream needs, Community Jobs Scotland is a good start but its too small. And why wait til young people have been unemployed for 6 months? Cyrenians has been allocated just 2 posts. I hope this is considerably scaled up by the Scottish Government in 2012/13. For young people disadvantaged by homelessness, damaged childhoods and associated problems, Scotland’s New Futures Fund (1998 – 2005) was the most effective scheme I’ve witnessed – and I’m still puzzled by why it stopped? ‘NFF projects are able to achieve extremely good results with a very difficult client group, not only in terms of moving people onto the stepping stones towards the labour market, but also into work.’ (Evaluation Report, May 2005). At least 55% achieved progress and nearly a quarter stepped into further education or jobs: a remarkable outcome given the starting point for most. Why not revive that here in Scotland? It will prevent and save more than it costs.

We’re also busily here designing new initiatives in our social enterprise workplaces to give at least a few more young people the opportunity and support to start a good working life.

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