In News, Skills

With the economic impact of COVID-19 hitting the headlines, a new project is underway to mitigate the effect on young people’s career aspirations and mental health. Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, tells us more.

With constant access to news and social media, it would be easy to think that the future looks bleak for young people who are beginning to think about applying for jobs, apprenticeships or further education.

At the click of a button, we can see endless reports and conversation about the impact of COVID-19 on the jobs market and the economy.

We know that many students spend upwards of six hours a day on social media* and one danger of this constant news cycle is that it could have a negative impact on young people’s ambitions and mental health.

While it’s true that we are facing huge challenges, and that many young people’s expectations have been turned on their heads, there is still good news out there and there are still opportunities for young people as they move on from school, college or university and look to the next stage of their lives.

As part of our region-wide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are beginning a new programme of work, looking at changing the narrative around the prospects for young people today.

While we in no way want to ignore the challenges, we do want to make sure that no one’s aspirations are lowered and that no one is discouraged from pursuing their dream job, apprenticeship, or college or university place. We want to make sure that young people in the North East hear about the support available, and to make sure that their questions, worries and opinions are being heard.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be finding out more about what young people are saying and working with employers to help young people understand the real picture around careers opportunities in our region.

What we already know is that there is optimism amongst young people.

The recent Unifrog report investigating the effect of the pandemic on students’ wellbeing found that, while students reported that the situation has had a clear impact on their education (with one in two saying the pandemic has negatively affected their motivation to study and do well), 70% reported feeling positive or optimistic about the future.

We also know that young people have skills and attributes that employers are looking for. Many are skilled in navigating digital tech and the online world, and many are flexible and can adapt quickly to new situations. This doesn’t just stand them in good stead when it comes to job interviews, but is also a valuable skillset for those who might choose the self-employment route.

During the last recession we saw the emergence of a wave of new businesses, many started by young founders. Promoting entrepreneurialism and letting young people know that self-employment is a viable route open to them is at the forefront of our work with schools and colleges, as we aim to make sure that all pupils in our region have access to top quality careers guidance. Again, we know there are challenges – young business leaders often find it difficult to access finance, for example – but there are start-up loans and financial support out there, and we can help young people to access it.

For those young people who are returning to school or college in September, we want to make sure that careers guidance is a priority and that it helps young people to explore the full range of pathways open to them including self-employment and non-traditional careers.

Working together with schools, colleges and employers, we aim to help young people understand that their skills are valuable, help them to choose the pathway that’s right for them, and help all young people to achieve their ambitions.

Find out more about the North East LEP’s works with schools, colleges and employers at www.northeastambition.co.uk.

*Findings from the Unifrog COVID-19 impact report, investigating the effect of the pandemic on students’ wellbeing and next steps.

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