Building the right environments that support young people, whoever and wherever they are

Covid-19 has had a large impact on young people’s education, mental health and wellbeing, social skills, and relationships. The cost of living crisis has also taken a toll, and young people are feeling the challenges of political uncertainty. These issues need to be addressed argues LJ Rawlings.
Building the right environments that support young people, whoever and wherever they are
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Youth Employment UK was founded in 2012 against a backdrop of having 1 million young people not in education, employment, or training in the UK. Over the past eleven years, we have led the way in understanding what the real barriers are for young people and using this knowledge to drive policy and employer behaviour. It has become clear that the challenges facing young people have become more complex and once again there are now 1 million young people not in full-time employment or education in the UK.

At Youth Employment UK we put young people at the heart of our understanding of youth unemployment. Each year we survey thousands of young people through our Annual Youth Voice Census, a survey with more than 200 questions asking young people to share their experiences about who they are, where they live, their experiences of education, employment, and unemployment. This data set is the biggest of its kind and allows us to share key insights to drive national and local policy and employer practice.

In 2022 the Youth Voice Census revealed four key findings:

  1. Mental Health Emergency
  2. Difference is a disadvantage
  3. Unprepared for their future
  4. Quality of Work

These findings are stark, showing an absolute increase against previous years’ data sets in the number of young people emphasising mental health and well-being challenges as well as a lack of confidence.

More on the Forum Network: What does the future look like for young people? by Doctor of Medicine, University of Wollongong

Some of the key headline data include:

Mental Health Emergency

  • 51% of young people aged 19+ thought mental health challenges were their biggest barrier to accessing work now or in the future;
  • 52% of those in work cited anxiety as their biggest barrier;
  • 2% of young people in work struggle with their well-being;
  • 1% of those in education thought that exams and assessments impact their mental health negatively.

Difference is a disadvantage

  • Young people with protected characteristics (those who are Black, Asian or from other ethnic minorities, who have disabilities, are LBGTQ+, or are free school meal students etc), carers, and care leavers were around 20% less likely to feel safe in their local community and the most likely to feel ‘very unsafe’ in their local area;
  • Those eligible for free school meals were 17% more likely to state that Covid continues to disrupt their work ‘a lot’ or ‘a great deal’;
  • Black, Black African, Black British, or Caribbean respondents were over three times more likely to say they did not feel welcome in their secondary school.

Unprepared for their future

  • Only 34.4% of those in education thought they understood the skills employers were looking for;
  • Over half (56.6%) of those looking for work thought their biggest barrier to employment was a lack of work experience;
  • Less than half (44.6%) of young people aged 19+ think they could write a CV.

Quality of Work

  • Less than a third (28.7%) of young people aged 19+ think employers are supportive of hiring young people;
  • Only 14.2% of young people were ‘confident’ or ‘extremely confident’ they could find quality work where they lived.

In addition to our annual Youth Voice Census, we also run a volunteer Youth Ambassador programme and a number of in-person, youth voice workshops and roundtable discussions throughout the year. These in-person sessions allow us to dive deeper into some of the issues facing young people and bring to life the personal impact of the barriers young people face.

Through our policy, research, and youth voice activity it has become clear Covid-19 has had a large impact on young people’s education, mental health and wellbeing, social skills, and relationships. The cost of living crisis has also taken a toll on young people, with social mobility taking a huge backward step, and young people are feeling the challenges of political uncertainty in the UK and abroad.

All of this insight adds up to a complex and challenging landscape. One million young people are at the moment not in full-time education or employment. More than 680,000 of that one million are economically inactive, meaning that they are choosing not to engage with the support systems available to them.

Despite these challenges, we know that young people want to work, and when they are in good quality jobs they most often thrive. So, building the right environments that support young people, whoever and wherever they are, should be the priority of national and local governments, as well as employers. The untapped potential of young people is key to harnessing productivity and economic growth.

We continue to work with policymakers and employers to support them in better understanding the needs and challenges of young people, encouraging policy agendas that focus on three things:

  1. Improving transitions from education to employment;
  2. Supporting employers to attract, retain and develop young people;
  3. Ensuring no young person is left behind.

In September 2023 we will launch this year's Youth Voice Census and later in December a new benchmarking tool to allow employers to assess where their organisations are in meeting best practice youth employment standards. These tools will continue to allow us to share key insights across the youth employment landscape and drive real change.


Learn more about the OECD work on Youth employment and social policies

Successful engagement of young people in the labour market and society is crucial not only for their own personal economic prospects and well-being, but also for overall economic growth and social cohesion. Investing in youth is therefore a policy priority for the OECD. Through adequate skills, employment, social and broader policy settings, young people have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and maintain confidence in their future prospects.

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