The number of people aged 16-64 claiming unemployment related benefits has increased by 271,000 from January 2020 to January 2021, an increase of 120 per cent. Earlier this year, it was reported by the Prince’s Trust that 60 per cent of young people say that getting a new job feels “impossible now” because there is so much competition. Mental health has become a key issue amongst young people, exacerbated by the unprecedented disturbance to their education and the trauma of having their social lives disrupted at vulnerable ages.

Whilst youth unemployment has become exponentially worse, those that were struggling to find work pre-pandemic are now being pushed even further out. Research has shown that disadvantaged young people will be among the worst affected groups as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, yet we believe they could also be the smartest solution to building back our workforces.

At Movement to Work, we encourage organisations to prioritise young people as part of their forward-looking strategy, particularly those with diverse backgrounds when it comes to existing skillsets, ethnicity, disability, and those furthest from the job market. These young people will inject fresh energy and different perspectives, and they can also help to develop and motivate existing staff members through mentorship and provide a renewed sense of purpose.

So many of these young people, due their socio-economic backgrounds, do not have parental help to write a C.V. or the family friend with an “in” at the firm. They find themselves stuck in a devastating cycle of “no experience, no job”, damaging their confidence, stunting their prospects, and stopping their economic contribution.

As employers, we can do something about this. There is a plethora of government-backed schemes to help businesses of all shapes and sizes to bring young people into their organisations. Whether it’s Apprenticeships, Traineeships, or offering a short work experience programme, you can help a young person turn their life around, and provide your organisation with a sustainable and diverse talent pipeline. There are also new schemes out there, like Kickstart, covering the salary of a young person for 6-months.

Last month, Movement to Work held its annual Summit, bringing together young people and leaders from across our network to discuss the most pressing youth employment issues and make plans for tackling them in the year ahead. The main theme of the Summit was ‘Safeguarding the Future of the Workplace’ – looking at putting youth employment at the heart of the economic recovery and ensuring that every young person has the support that they need to get into work. Our call to action in 2021 is: how do we ensure youth employment is embedded into business planning as part of our post COVID-19 recovery? Namely, how can the business both ‘build back better’ and try to remedy the disastrous situation our young people are facing. I’d like to share some of the recommendations we took away from the Summit:

Regularly review your recruitment methods: Traditional recruitment practices need to change to give flexible methods of assessment that remove barriers. Not only will this enable young people to move into work, but it will also help to ensure that employers are accessing a diverse talent pool that might be bypassed by traditional recruitment methods. We have become acutely aware of staggering detrimental effects on youth mental health as a result of the pandemic and therefore asks employers to see this as another growing barrier to employment, whereby a young person may be bringing an enhanced state of anxiety to interview and the workplace. We are urging employers to be sensitive to these mental health impacts and to recruit for potential not perfection.

Be conscious of the digital divide: When promoting and running employability programmes, businesses need to invest in providing outreach support, digital access and digital training where needed to enable young people whatever their circumstances to access the opportunities. Employers need to continue to be aware of digital poverty and to think ‘outside the box’ regarding how to meaningfully engage with these young people so they are never left behind. We must not rush to think that young people – the so called ‘digital natives’ – are as tech savvy as we may think they are. We need to continue to navigate the digital world remembering that not all young people have the access to tech and data, not all young people have the appropriate skills-set, and to be mindful that a digital world is not always the best place to foster positive experiences for our young people.

Financial inclusion must always be considered: When promoting and running employability programmes, businesses need to consider young people living in financial hardship, in desperate need of these opportunities, but sometimes without proper means. Employers must find ways to make programmes financially accessible and wherever possible, find ways for them to lead onto longer term paid opportunities.

Let’s do sustainability properly: We must see business engagement in youth employability programmes not just as a HR task, but as a key way to bring true sustainability to life in our organisations – bringing in diverse talent and meaningfully engaging with our communities to bring about social mobility and an economy that works for everyone.

The media still talks about the risk of the lost generation – if we act now, boldly, this needn’t be the fate of our young people. We can do something about it. As leaders, we have a responsibility to be part of the solution and not the problem. We believe that if we continue to have those young people who are facing multiple barriers to work in our hearts and minds as we move forward with our recruitment, our businesses will be stronger and the world will become a fairer place to be.