Long-term cost of youth unemployment demands we pull out the stops to help those most at risk, says Mark Bibbey
Venture Trust supports young people desperate to find work. While there are some early signs of economic recovery – and Scotland seems to be faring better than the rest of the UK – those searching for jobs are continuing to find it tough. For some young people, particularly those motivated and committed to progressing towards work, there are a range of private-, public- and third-sector providers eager to help with training, advice, mentoring, apprenticeships and other “stepping stones” into employment.
But there is a significant minority of young people who are ill-equipped to take advantage of the mainstream help on offer. Typically, they are individuals who, for a wide variety of reasons, have grown up without acquiring the essential life skills most of us will have gained as a result of our family upbringing, school and contact with positive, adult role models. Our experience shows that these are young people who lack self-esteem, are unable to recognise their own potential and abilities, who struggle to relate effectively to others, and for whom failure is a routine and normal part of everyday life. For them, employment seems like an impossible goal and the resulting absence of hope leads many into destructive relationships and antisocial behaviours.
This group of individuals need tailored support to overcome the adversity and disadvantage they have experienced, to encourage them to make sense of their situation, to build confidence, raise aspirations and engage in practical support, moving them closer to the job market. The benefits are clear: by becoming economically more productive, young people are able to contribute positively to society and break through the barriers to training, education and employment. Of course, this also comes with significant savings to the public purse. Perhaps most importantly, there is a genuine opportunity to stem inter-generational patterns of unemployment and disadvantage.
Making positive changes
Of the 400 individuals who came to Venture Trust for support last year, at least 200 were misusing drugs or alcohol, more than a third had a history of offending, and a fifth had no qualifications whatsoever. Our experience shows that, with the right support, these young people can – and do – make and sustain positive changes in their lives. Addressing the needs of this group is more intensive, takes longer, requires greater effort and is inevitably more expensive. But it is here that we have the potential to make the greatest impact. If we want to make society a better place in the longer term, then addressing the personal and social development of this group of young people is crucial.
To do so requires consolidated action and contribution from us all, and the Scottish Government’s investment in the Youth Employment Fund, post-16 education and training for the most disadvantaged young people is extremely welcome. The resources of public-sector bodies are thinly stretched, charities are being asked to do more with less, and the private sector is increasingly pressured to maximise its most profitable activities.
It is at these times that we are most at risk of casting adrift the most excluded – of selectively supporting those who just need that extra nudge to get them into work, of measuring impact on how cheaply it can be achieved.
And therein lies the real risk. If, in the interest of economy, we unintentionally exclude those who are furthest from a positive pathway, we are simply laying the foundation for far greater costs over the long term. However we measure our “return on investment” in the short term, we need to recognise that the real success or failure of today’s policies and initiatives will become evident, not in weeks or months, but in years, lifetimes, generations. Those who have to decide where the balance of investment should lie have a difficult task, but something deeper than a balance-sheet assessment of effect is required.
At Venture Trust we are committed to concerted, consistent and coherent action, delivered in partnership, to support Scotland’s young people.
In doing so, we are building stronger, more resilient families and communities able to navigate these challenging times.
• Mark Bibbey is chief executive of Venture Trust, www.venturetrust.org.uk