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By Jo Phillips

By Jo Phillips

A window on a workplace

Figures out this week show 3.6 million 16-24 year olds are unemployed. But what opportunities are out there for young people and how can we show them all the different careers that are available?

If you’ve ever wondered what goes inside a tutu apart from a ballerina and you find yourself in Oslo, then take a walk past the Opera House. Not only is it an amazing building but at street level you can see inside the workshops and studios. Not just tutus but masks, wigs, costumes and scenery all being created in public view.  There are pin cushions and scissors, tape measures and fabric on desks, designs being worked on and real, ordinary people doing what real, ordinary people do at work. But that’s the thing, we don’t very often get to see what people actually do at work apart from the obvious – teachers, health care professionals, police and fire officers, refuse collectors and shop staff.  

Young people who don’t have the same opportunities for Saturday and holiday jobs as previous generations, whose parents go to work in an office or work from home on a laptop are less exposed to what work looks like, what jobs are even available. Careers teachers are almost as rare as those teaching Latin verb declensions, work experience usually means mum or dad calling in a favour so a reluctant teenager can spend a few days being bored to death in an office somewhere and still not know what anyone actually does at work.

Figures out this week show there are 3.6 million people between 16 – 24 who are classed as unemployed in the UK.  What a waste.

Of course they can be annoying, self-consciously inarticulate, lacking social skills, time keeping and curiosity but who wasn’t at that age? This particular group of young people have been hit by the impact of Covid on their education, no longer have the freedom to travel and work in Europe thanks to Brexit and simply don’t know what jobs there are or how to get them. Want to work in the creative sector? You’ve got to be well off or well-connected because so many entry level openings mean working for free and if you don’t live near a big city with good public transport, forget the unsocial hours of catering and hospitality, theatre or music.

Tony Blair’s ambition to get 50% of people to university was admirable, but what about the other 50%? Colleges are cutting courses in catering, modern languages, social care and creative arts. Apprenticeships are great but many employers say the rules around funding and duration are too rigid and, like so much of government too centralised. Proper devolution allowing greater local control over skills funding can build partnerships with employers, attract further investment and train young people to do the jobs that are needed in the region, helping to create more sustainable communities.

The world of work has changed beyond recognition and despite the relentless diet of TV programmes showing police and paramedics at work, or a bunch of amateurs trying their hand at farming, catering or construction, we really have very little idea of what goes on in other people’s work places. That’s why the windows into the working of the Oslo Opera House were such a revelation and I bet, an inspiration to at least a handful of kids walking past. Young people deserve better and we need them to gain confidence and skills, to imagine and create, to share and learn alongside other people so maybe we should rethink office space and not hide the world of work away behind those awful office blinds that never seem to work properly.

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