It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when my generation is drawing their pensions that those pensions will have to be paid for by the economic activity of today’s young people. That means the best way to secure our economic future is to build a future for the young of today.
We need economic succession planning or we face a future where the next generation can’t carry the weight held back by a cycle of under achievement that is already blighting the economy. Young people who enter the workforce with qualifications, who build skills though real apprenticeships and who are positively engaged with the economy after education are more productive, earn more, pay more tax and cost the state less in benefits and healthcare. The flip side is that the negative impact of early age unemployment and under employment damages self esteem, confidence and personal ambition. In some communities young people are being born into families locked in to their second and third generation of underachievement.
A European problem
This isn’t just a Scottish problem; across Europe youth unemployment is a problem with 22.9% of under 25s out of work. The youth unemployment rate in Scotland is lower than in the UK -15.9% for Scotland vs 17.6% for the UK. Having traditionally been higher in Scotland, the youth unemployment rate has decreased over the last year by 5.1% in Scotland versus a UK decrease of 3.9 %. It is clear from the figures above that a slowly recovering UK economy is helping and that the extra focus in Scotland given by the creation of the role of Youth Employment Minster is delivering faster results, but it is not the whole solution.
Young people who don’t believe they have a future don’t look forward to the future, and so are open to negative influences in the present. Most young people will rebel at some point, they will drink, sometimes fight, lose the ability to talk to their parents, get in trouble of some sort and many will try drugs, realistically isn’t that all part of growing up? The big question is: does our society provide a credible positive alternative, does it create Teflon kids where negative influences can’t stick or are we creating sponges that soak up the easy, lazy, dead-end choices that fill the gap when society fails a generation? The poverty, health and mental health, alcohol and crime figures in some communities are well documented and just add to the dead end culture that pervades less well off communities in particular.
If self confidence, personal and skills development, ambition and determination are the road less travelled in a community, then only the exceptional young people will be able to follow that road. That is a failure of the system, not the young people. Some politicians blame the young for not trying hard enough, for not conforming, but they are conforming to the role they are given by society.
Slave labour isn’t the answer
If you want to win an election then raise pensions, if you want to win the future then raise the ambitions of the young. The Conservative’s idea of making young people do community work if they don’t have a job after six months to get their benefit sounds more like a community order than a plan to build self esteem.
Some of the best work is being done in the business and charity sectors. A few years ago I helped Rathbone with its social media marketing and it opened my eyes. Rathbone helps young people with employability skills and aims to help them onto positive outcomes after leaving school. Last year they supported 1,886 young people on a range of skills development programmes in 12 centres across Scotland. Meeting those youngsters, I realised that they all wanted a better future but that they had all grown up thinking they hadn’t many choices in life. It struck me that Rathbone’s intervention can be “life changing”.
Bad Idea is a new Scottish social enterprise company set up to inspire young people to transform their futures through entrepreneurship, a path many are told is a bad idea! Following a massively successful pilot, Bad Idea is running a flagship competition funded by the Scotland Can Do / Scottish Government initiative, encouraging secondary school children to come up with imaginative ideas; over a four-day workshop children work up business plans, use social media, seek funding and present to a judging panel which decides the winner. The feedback from teachers and young people from the pilot was that it was “life changing”.
Business is getting in on the act too. 29steps is a community interest company, a social enterprise born out of 29studios, a Glaswegian creative digital agency. 29steps provides training and development for young people with a passion for media and technology, by developing professional skills, entrepreneurial spirit, and ultimately providing a platform for youngsters to forge a career in the creative industries.
29steps teamed up with Ocean Youth Trust Scotland to produce a film documenting the charity’s Young Leader Development Programme where youngsters sail from Norway to Scotland and gain leadership skills and qualifications along the way. I attended the premier and you can’t get a better case study in what young people are capable of than this television quality video shot by a 16 year old trainee filmmaker (Ellis Beaton) who had never stepped on a yacht before in his life. How did Ellis and the others on the voyage describe it? You guessed it – “life changing”. 29steps aim to support 29 young trainees through an educational programme that pays trainee creatives 20% above the living wage, to empower each #29er gain a foothold in the workplace. That’s great news, as 63.5% of all working 18 to 21-year-olds are paid under the living wage of £7.85 an hour, calculated to provide a minimum acceptable standard of living.
We need to provide young people with greater opportunity, engage them, challenge them and support them. If there is a mood for a radical policy to eradicate youth unemployment then the Scottish Government should team up with these youth champions and guarantee every young person a paid job, one that takes skills development, leads to qualifications and offers a positive destination after education that bridges the gap between education and employment which, for too many, seems unbridgeable.
Would that not be “life changing”? Why do policy makers aim for anything less? Picking up litter to get your benefit may also be life changing, but not in the same way.
Oh, and they need to be able to vote as soon as they are adults, you know, as if they were valued members of society.