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Youth Social Action Toolkit logo #iwill #iwillweek There is no shortage of young people wanting to gain experience of the workplace, and no shortage of employers wanting to offer it. However, as The Centre for Education and Youth and Workfinder’s recent research on work experience highlights, despite lots of goodwill many employers are unsure about how to work with young people.

Fortunately, as our recent work with The Careers & Enterprise Company and #iwill campaign reveals, youth social action helps young people develop career-relevant skills and experiences while undertaking projects that directly benefit their local communities. 

Youth Social Action is defined as activity that young people undertake in order to make a positive difference to others or the environment. It can offer a much needed new way for organisations to support young people in mutually beneficial ways.

Our previous research highlights key barriers that inhibit employers’ ability to support young people’s careers education. Employers – including representatives from SMEs and larger corporations – told us that resource, whether money or physical space, limits their ability to provide opportunities for young people.

This is particularly the case for SMEs, who often do not have the human and financial resources available to make work experience placements feasible. This problem is compounded by the fact work experience placements tend to be rigid in format, with schools finding it easier to release a cohort of students after exams in a one- or two-week block, rather than more flexibly throughout the academic year.

Even where organisations do have the capacity to offer traditional placements, other factors can inhibit their ability to offer work experience. These can include knowledge of how to make such placements worthwhile (as opposed to appointing a temporary tea-maker for the week), or confidence in providing appropriate support for young people, including the relevant health and safety, safeguarding, or just what to do if the young person is late.

Geography can be a big hurdle too, with young people struggling to physically travel to some employers, an issue that is often worse in rural areas of the country. Young people are also frequently unable to link up with employers offering relevant opportunities.

Many of these problems can be addressed by using Youth Social Action to engage employers in careers provision, providing them with new and different perspectives on challenges they face, while developing future talent.

Our newly-developed toolkit contains a range of examples including volunteering, campaigning and fundraising. It highlights lots of ways employers are already supporting youth social action, including:

  • Students working with local charities as volunteers, working on issues they feel passionately about, such as homelessness.
  • Local and regional public sector organisations working with young people to identify and solve challenges facing communities, such as the NHS in Northumberland working with local young people to tackle loneliness among pensioners.
  • National organisations backing local youth social action for example the Football Association meeting with local students in Wembley about paying staff fairly, or the Science and National History Museums teaching students in Swiss Cottage about climate change and backing their schools’ ‘Green Pledges’.
  • Organisations providing placements for students with a particular interest in specific, community issues, such as the National Trust in Ayr offering work experience placements to students from Stirling, who contributed to the maintenance of heritage sites.

Supporting young people’s careers education needn’t be a zero sum, absorbing time and money and offering little in return to employers. Youth social action provides a way for employers to gain fresh perspectives on current challenges, while also generating a talent pipeline of potential new recruits.

As our toolkit and wider research on careers education show, supporting youth social action can offer a more ‘light touch’ and flexible way for employers to work with local students while also giving back to their communities. Simultaneously, and as some of the examples above indicate, youth social action can align with organisations’ priorities, helping them identify and tackle important challenges.

Visit our new Youth Social Action Toolkit here.