News and Comment

“What of the good that young people do?”

Thursday 11 July 2013


Rob Taylor recently participated in a panel discussion at the Kai Rudat Memorial event on the subject of youth participation. This followed his involvement in an OPM scoping workshop for the event in which we asked young people about the challenges they feel they are facing.

It is not very often that young people in society are asked for their views and opinions on important issues, and it is very rare that these views are listened to and presented to people who can actually make a change.

Arriving at OPM, it was clear that one of these rare opportunities had presented itself. Following a short introduction on the purpose of the evening – to develop a basis for a lecture and discussion on how today’s young people will shape the future of tomorrow, held in the memory of Kai Rudat, the 16-year director of OPM – the focus group of 17 split off into two groups and got down to business.

It was very evident from the start of the evening that a wide range of backgrounds were covered at the evening, but that the views presented were universal. There were key issues that every person at the evening rallied behind, such as unemployment, challenges in finding employment, discrimination, issues within the education system, and the negative press surrounding young people.

But by far the biggest issue raised was unemployment. There was a general lack of faith that government programmes and institutions were helping jobseekers to find work and improve their future career opportunities. There was also a wish for industry to take more collective responsibility and help young people get out of this difficult situation. Even those attendees at the focus group who were in employment had horror stories to tell of discrimination during the recruitment process.

Recent university graduates expressed a sense of failure that, at a time in their lives where they should be proudest of their achievements, they felt that the dream of a good education leading to a good job had been proven false. Many of us were stuck in the “experience required – can’t gain experience” cycle. The focus quickly turned to corporations and big business. There was a feeling that the onus was partially on them to provide better situations for young people – graduates or otherwise. Ideas raised on the night included probationary placements that do not command sub-standard “apprentice” wages, and the provision of better feedback to unsuccessful candidates, rather than the typical “we are unable to respond individually” message (despite reaching the later stages of the recruitment process). Whatever the potential solution bought forward, there was a nodding of heads all around the table.

Nor was the government spared the blame either. A revolving-door culture in Job Centres, bringing in jobseekers to sign a piece of paper before spitting them back out as helpless as they were before, was condemned. As charitable organisations attempted to fill the void, there was a feeling that many charities (not to criticise their hard work and success) shouldn’t have to exist, and that it was the role of the government to provide these services.

The media came next. The portrayal of young people in the press was felt to be unfair, yet the voices of young people that could combat this negative press were typically ignored. The coverage provided on the 2011 riots was prolonged, and is still referenced today. Yes, the destruction caused and loss of life was shocking and unacceptable. No, this is not a general representation of young people in Britain. A big question arose: “What of the good that young people do?”

That’s why I relished the chance to speak on the panel at the Kai Rudat Memorial Lecture and Discussion on the 2nd July. Talking with important people within the political landscape face-to-face allowed the opportunity to pressure them on these key issues, and to find out what could be done about them. My only hope is that these views will be taken on board, and that this event is only the first step of a grand staircase. I look forward to the next step.