Like most people, I welcome the recent National Living Wage rise – but I am dismayed that those under the age of 23 do not qualify. Amidst proposed changes to student loan repayments – which would see young people worse off, when 51% are already worried about their financial futures – it paints a bleak picture, and doesn’t convince me that the needs of our young people are adequately being considered.
The transition from education to employment is a tension point for so many young people, and even more so when we consider the impact of the pandemic in the reduced number of graduate and internship schemes running, and the subsequent skills gap. Young people entering employment today haven’t benefitted from the same opportunities as those that went before them. They have had to take their skills development into their own hands to prepare themselves for the workplace.
At the same time, these young people are competing with last year’s graduates – which means that, on average, employers are receiving 91 applications per graduate position. Particularly for those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, the gap between education and employment appears a greater chasm than ever.
Help is available. Since June, I’ve been part of a team at The Young Foundation working to train 30 young people as peer researchers as part of Kickstart, a government-funded scheme for 16 to 24-year-olds who are on universal credit and deemed at risk of unemployment. The programme delivers work experience through six-month job placements.
When launching our Kickstart peer research scheme, there were a few things that were important to us. One was topping up salaries, so the young people working with us receive the living wage. The second was to practice what we so often preach when discussing diversity within the social research sector – and to do that, it was important that we opened up the opportunity to people from a wide range of backgrounds and circumstances.
Over the last six months, we have employed two cohorts and have trained them in research skills to work across three different sprints, the second of which was co-commissioned by the Youth Futures Foundation Future Voices group and explored access to employment for young people with ADHD, and for young LGBTQ+ people.
The benefits run two ways: as an organisation, we have gained from the insights and enthusiasm these young people have brought, pushing us to think differently about research, and carefully consider how we open up opportunities in this sector.
But despite seeing these young people grow in skills, confidence and experience in their time with us, I can’t help but worry for their futures. There is much talk about diversifying the research sector – but when I think about our Kickstart recruits, many of whom haven’t gone through the well-trodden, traditional route commonly taken by researchers – there remain far too few pathways for them just yet. This is a worry for some of the young people I’ve worked with recently, who want to remain in social research but are finding moving to the next level in the sector is too hard for them to reach.
Seeing unemployment return to pre-pandemic levels, and internships and graduate schemes returning with gusto, is a heart-warming and positive sign – especially as these experiences are so important to young people’s career development and employability skills. But let’s not forget disadvantaged youths. It is important that the opportunities presented to young people are backed by the Living Wage, so those from financially disadvantaged backgrounds are able to take up such schemes. Otherwise, the gulf only widens – and the social research sector, as all sectors, suffers.
As she finished her Kickstart scheme with The Young Foundation, one peer researcher, Elly McDade, summed up the need for diversity – both for young people as individuals, and for the greater good. As she said, “If it wasn’t for this opportunity, I wouldn’t have been able to experience the world of research. It’s important that we hear from different types of individuals from different backgrounds. The research sector benefits when it has all different types of outlooks and perspectives collectively working together”.
The Young Foundation is now recruiting its next wave of Kickstart Peer Researchers. Find out more here.