The Future of Work research centre recently hosted Emerging Futures: Empowering Youth in a Changing World of Work, a one-day workshop exploring the challenges and opportunities facing young people. In this post, Dr Farooq Mughal addresses strategies to alleviate the burdens placed on aspiring youth through a sense of shared responsibility.

From skill development opportunities to finding meaningful employment and navigating employer expectations, young people’s journey from education to employment can be daunting. This can be particularly difficult for youth who are underprivileged.

Social mobility is an essential aspect of a fair and just society, as it enables individuals from marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds to improve their socioeconomic status and access better opportunities.

Looking at social mobility through the notion of human capital can provide a foundation to understand the key aspects of levelling up of youth communities from underprivileged backgrounds.


Human capital theory states that individuals' investment in education, training and skill development increases their productivity and earning potential, thereby improving their economic outcomes. Achieving social mobility through concerted upskilling efforts by bringing stakeholders such as educators, employers and policymakers into play can potentially break the cycles of poverty.

For youth from underprivileged backgrounds who may have limited access to resources and opportunities, financial support, counselling and skills development can provide a pathway to acquire the human capital necessary for success in the labour market.


Identifying the challenges

Achieving social mobility can be difficult for young people on the fringes of society due to a combination of systemic barriers and structural inequalities inherent in the labour market. For example, limited access to quality education and training opportunities often leaves them ill-equipped to compete in the job market.

A study by KPMG notes that socioeconomic factors can exacerbate challenges to career progression, as young people may lack the financial resources and social network necessary to access career advancement opportunities.

The CIPD, in partnership with the Youth Futures Foundation, reviewed over 2,500 empirical studies to find discrimination and bias in hiring practices of underprivileged youth, which act as barriers that hinder their ability to secure meaningful employment.

Their report establishes that, despite acquiring education and skills, in some cases, ineffective recruitment channels, poor selection methods, lack of awareness among recruiters regarding subgroup differences and unconscious bias impede young people’s access to quality employment opportunities.

This highlights the systemic barriers that perpetuate socioeconomic inequalities and underscores the importance of addressing structural issues in the labour market to ensure equitable access to employment.


How stakeholders can help

At our recent Emerging Futures workshop, Professor Matt Dickson from the Institute for Policy Research spoke about how educators can play a crucial role in widening participation and promoting social mobility. He emphasised the need for targeted outreach programmes and support services for underrepresented youth.

Educators can help level the playing field and ensure that all young people have access to higher education opportunities. Moreover, they can collaborate with employers and community organisations to provide internships, mentoring and other experiential learning opportunities.

Another speaker, Dr Elena Liquete, a higher education consultant and expert from CarringtonCrisp, focused on employers’ role in supporting youth in discovering their identity (who they are), and how different notions about oneself can shape what we achieve in life as we climb the career ladder. She drew on the autobiography of actor Stephen Fry whose life was riddled with struggles right from his teenage years as he publicly embraced his identity.

Educators and employers can collectively focus on identity development as they offer mentorship and training programmes to help young people build their confidence in the workplace and develop their professional skills. By investing in the development of their young workforce, employers can not only attract top talent but also contribute to the overall success and growth of their organisation.


Targeting interventions

The sentiments gathered from speakers at the concluding session of the workshop, featuring policymakers, focused on addressing the disparities faced by young individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds at the grassroots level.

Policymakers can work with educators and employers to create more equitable education and training systems that prioritise essential skills, such as critical thinking, communication, teamwork and problem-solving. By ensuring that all young people have access to high-quality education and training opportunities, regardless of their socioeconomic background, we can help to promote social mobility and create a more inclusive society.


Alleviating pressures

As a scholar working at the intersection of youth and employability studies, I argue that we cannot overlook the demands of our neoliberalised and capitalist societies, which encourage young jobseekers to entrepreneurially invest in themselves and take sole responsibility for finding their own way to employment. The very idea of 'entrepreneurs of the self' emerges from this economic political rationality that suggests individuals must actively shape their own destinies in the pursuit of success.

However, this can be problematic, leading to anxiety, stress and burnout. A recent study indicates that heightened reflexivity during labour market transition can escalate commitment but also places a significant burden on young people.

Even those enjoying success from privileged backgrounds also find themselves painted into vulnerable corners, striving to meet idealised standards at any cost. This pressure to conform to labour market ideals can have serious consequences, as seen in extreme cases like that of the young intern, Moritz Erhardt.

As we work to empower the next generation, it's essential to recognise the complex interplay between neoliberalism, youth employability and social mobility. Instead of perpetuating ideals that place the burden solely on youth, educators, employers and policymakers must jointly strive to share the responsibility. By addressing structural inequalities and promoting a more holistic approach to youth empowerment, we can create a brighter future for all young people.

Posted in: Economy, Education, Employers, Equality, Future of Work, Students

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