Calling time on the ‘lost generation’ rhetoric

Cheerful international friends teenagers taking selfie while walking in summer park, young generation

It will come as no surprise that the stats and research show that young people have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19.

With some unable to sit exams, some receiving downgraded exam results and many unable to find a job, it is easy to fall into painting this generation as victims.

While according to a recent study by LSE, it’s true that 1 in 10 young people have lost their job during the pandemic, it is also true that writing off these young people as the lost generation, can be hugely damaging and unhelpful.

When our world was turned upside down in March, many of us felt an immediate responsibility to those young people that we help. Since then, it’s become clear that the best way to do this is to turn the negative rhetoric surrounding young people on its head. By rising to the challenge of working with our partners to create meaningful opportunities for young people to develop the mindset they will need to navigate the current climate and injecting some hope back into the narrative.

While the conversation centres around equipping young people with the right academic and technical skills, and rightly so, more needs to be said about the importance of mindset. To help young people understand that mindset has a really important part to play in spotting opportunities when they might not be that obvious.

What is there to lose?

An entrepreneur friend of mine told me recently that for some certain working-class families, the idea of their children becoming entrepreneurs is risky and worrying. This struck a familiar chord with my own experiences of growing up and having the what are you going to do when you leave school conversation with my parents.

Ultimately though, the days of steady salaries and regular hours are no longer a basic expectation for young people entering the jobs market. An enterprising mindset will be incredibly valuable when they navigate their way through the challenges that the modern workplace present and assessing where opportunity might emerge from if their original career path doesn’t work out. Being able to turn around a setback and to creatively see a way around or through a perceived roadblock is something that is taught to entrepreneurs in many play books, but it’s a lesson that is just as important for young people.

Instead of writing off an entire generation as ‘lost’, we should be asking how we can support them to become more entrepreneurial, more optimistic and ready themselves to jump on opportunity when it appears. With this in mind, more crucial than ever that we expand the education we give young people beyond traditional academics, and provide more enterprise education in schools.

We all need to play a part 

Business has a role in all of this.  We need to get employers to build closer connections with education, demystify business for young people and build confidence in them to feel prepared for the working world.  This is why we have teamed up with people from the working and business world like former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former Dragon Theo Paphitis and Stephen Welton, Executive Chairman, BGF.

Instead of writing off young people, we collectively have a responsibility to help young people find opportunity and give them the tools to do this.  Young people can become the creators of their own opportunities and jobs, and we can see this happening. Tayla Evans, Young Enterprise’s entrepreneur of the year 2020 developed an environmentally friendly tent designed to cut back on excessive plastic waste at festivals. Despite Covid-19 preventing festivals from going ahead, Tayla has shown incredible initiative and continued to develop her business plan for EnviroTent throughout 2020.

Whilst it’s our role at Young Enterprise to inspire young people and give them the confidence to go forth into the world of work, sometimes I often find myself inspired by them instead. The way young people have demonstrated such resourcefulness, initiative and courage over the last nine months has been a privilege to be part of.

This is why we are calling on business and government to support us in our efforts to provide one million opportunities for young people to help them succeed but also crucially, help provide opportunities for young people to develop an enterprising mindset and help them to grab hold of and recognise those opportunities, in whatever form they may come in.

Sharon DaviesAbout the author

Sharon is a highly experienced youth worker who has worked with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds for over 15 years – before taking on a national role with Young Enterprise, where she is now CEO.

Sharon has an emotional drive behind her work with young people, having experienced for herself the life-changing effect of a mentor at a key moment in her own life. She left home at 16 and following various temporary roles, worked in a Kwik Save at 19 where she was approached by a youth worker who had been watching her savvy and calm interactions with misbehaving teenagers outside the shop. The youth worker was impressed with her people skills and ability to connect with the teenagers, and suggested she go into youth work herself – a turning point for her own future.

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