A lost generation?

Posted 05 December 2011 by

With official figures reporting that youth unemployment has reached the 1 million mark, a 17 year high, it appears that young people have been the hardest hit by the economic slowdown.

Reports suggest that rising youth unemployment is creating a ‘lost generation’ of young people, ‘at risk of debt, depression and self-loathing.’ More specifically, the long-term impact of youth unemployment can have serious consequences at a society level, in terms of the skill levels of our future workforce. If many young people are unemployed, and therefore not gaining useful skills and experience from employment, this can impact on their future employability. While this can have serious impact on the economy, it can also have adverse consequences for the individual.

As work forms a key part of our lives and, for most of us, is integral to our sense of identity, it is unsurprising that the loss of working life can have a serious impact on an individual’s well-being. This impact can have both practical consequences, including poverty, ill-health, homelessness, and low social status, as well as psychological consequences. Being valued at work, and having opportunities to perform a job skilfully, can lead to high levels of personal satisfaction and motivation, which is linked to high self-esteem. An absence of these drivers in an individual’s life can have negative effects on health and psychological wellbeing, including feelings of depression or worthlessness.

While the government has announced a series of initiatives aimed at tackling the problem of youth unemployment, such as apprenticeships, work placements, and business grants, there is also a key role for education providers, careers services, and even psychologists to play.

The rapidly rising cost of tuition fees and the increasingly competitive nature of the job market mean it is crucial for young people to start thinking about career choices from an early age. The role of schools, colleges and careers services in guiding and informing young people about their options is critical. By making these choices early on, and equipping themselves with the correct training and experience, a competitive job market becomes a lot easier to stand out in. Psychologists can play a key role here. Personality questionnaires and career guidance tools can be very effective in raising self awareness and offering individuals valuable self insights, which can help them make more informed career choices. Knowing more about yourself and your preferences when it comes to interacting with others, your thinking and decision making style, and lifestyle preferences, can offer useful insights to inform future career choices.

The Strong Interest Inventory is designed to help people to make career and educational choices which are most compatible with their interests. This tool works on the theory that the occupations that will provide the most satisfaction are those which offer the best match with a person’s preferences, interests, values and abilities.

For many graduates, who may have already chosen the career path they wish to pursue, the biggest challenge can be learning ‘how to play the game’ in terms of interview techniques. Again, universities and careers’ services have a responsibility to educate young people on what specialist employers look for from job applicants. By learning the skills necessary to ‘present their best face’ in interviews and assessment days, coupled with gaining relevant work experience in university holidays or through internships, graduates stand a much better chance of standing out in an increasingly competitive job market.

While this is by no means the complete answer to the national job shortage, by being strategic and equipping themselves with the right skills and experience, in a career field of their choice, individuals can greatly increase their chances of standing out from the crowd.

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