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What is ‘Youth Social Impact’?

by Graham Sykes,

Posted on the 18/01/2022

I count myself lucky to work in the youth engagement sector and nothing gives me greater pleasure than when a campaign or strategy brings life-changing benefits to young people.

This was the motivation for writing by book Destination Adulthood (available here 😉) and what drove the concept of DESTINATION – an online youth engagement platform which already has over 12,000 young people subscribed to it.

But in the real world, the pleasure I gain is secondary to the benefits gained by the young person; and is pushed into third place when you consider the wider societal benefits of improving the life of a teen or young adult.

For every young person that doesn’t maximise their potential – our society and local communities suffer. This can be in a variety of ways from less tax collected by the Exchequer through to increased demands in universal credit, health services or crime prevention. It is in our interests to engage all ‘young people’ effectively and design products and services that are appropriate for their needs.

I regularly talk about young people not being a homogenous group. I’m often tickled by ‘older’ people who use blanket “yoof” stereotypes, yet get offended when you stereotype them back. There is not one defining quality that all 16-25 year olds share. The have different ages, genders, ethnicities, sexualities, home-lives, family units, health pressures, access to money, qualifications and aspirations to name but a few. Each young person is made up a unique set of characteristics (their social DNA) and these radically influence the process of engagement.

From my experience, the number one determinant of whether a young person will maximise their potential within society is how well they do in their GCSEs. In 2018/19 (the last year the data was published) only 44% of school leavers left school with a grade 5 pass in both English and Maths. Again, it is easy to generalise, but it is all our problem if 56% of young people don’t have the basic qualifications that employers and education establishments expect.

Sadly, there is no ‘catch all’ reason why less than half of school leavers leave without qualifications in English & Maths. I have recently been looking at the shared characteristics of young people aged 16+ who are not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) and there is a clear corelation between NEET and lack of qualifications. However, whilst being NEET is an ‘effect’ of having a lack of qualifications – it is not necessarily the cause.

As I said above young people are made up of multi-faceted characteristics and these will either support them to engage or they will provide a barrier. Only by understanding this can we start to create personalised and relevant products and services that support them to maximise their own life journey.

But those young people facing the most challenges are not being helped as much as they could be. Traditionally those without formal qualifications in English and Maths would be swallowed up by Level 2 training courses and traineeships, however this provision is on the decline. Funding cuts and difficulties around engaging (and maintaining engagement) makes Level 2 provision expensive when solely judged against outputs. The ‘impact’ of Level 2 courses on an individual and society however can be significant and without them as stepping stones between school and employment/further education, the chasm will only get wider.

Sadly, I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that as young people become more disadvantaged, they become harder to engage and this becomes a greater social cost that we all burdened with.

If you are an organisation that is facing issues around engaging the ‘correct’ young people please drop me a message via the webform below. Likewise if you would like to have a discussion about how we can create solutions to improve the opportunities for young people, and in turn increase the social impact of teens and young adults, please get in touch.

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