Businesses Must Be There For Young People

Post author image. Guest Editor
Jacob Sakil – youth activist, community strategist, Youth Justice Board Member, and former Young Mayor of Lewisham 2009/10 – shares his experience of employment and how businesses need to take action against the crisis affecting young people.

I am sure every young person dreams about what they want to be to when they become older. I often have random conversations with my mom about the questions I asked growing up. She enjoys recalling I would passionately tell her I wanted to be a lawyer, a judge and anything else that allowed me to have an opinion about something. Years later I agree that I certainly wanted to make a difference… and still have a passionate view on just about everything! However, the previous aspirations and excitement of young people entering the job market are becoming more elusive than ever before.

I think now is the time for businesses to be bold and collaborative to support the growing youth unemployment and mental health crisis.

Jacob Sakil – youth activist, community strategist, Youth Justice Board Member

When working as a youth worker I recognise when young people approach adolescence. They are thinking about what to do for a living whilst also being confronted by real barriers before finding a job. That mixed with the effects of COVID-19, has further exposed the need for businesses to think innovatively to help support young people into employment. We often talk about creating jobs, yet I feel it is being slowly recognised that the journey in between exploring the job market and becoming employed is where young people need the most support.

Towards the end of last year, we saw a 14% increase in unemployment amongst 16–24-year-olds¹ and a resulting mental health crisis as one in four young people report feeling ‘unable to cope’². My peers and I are experiencing these issues firsthand. This coupled with the complications and uncertainty of Brexit mean that now is the time for businesses to bridge the gap of support young people are asking for.

Bring young people into the conversation

As we enter 2021 with a collective vision to build back better from the crippling COVID-19 crisis, it is my hope that businesses take a more intentional approach to how they recruit and engage young people. There should not only be conversations at a senior level but also with operational teams such as marketing and recruitment. This will ensure that any messages that are shared reflect the lived experiences of young people. Businesses also need to recognise the disruption caused to young people’s education and look beyond qualifications when making hiring decisions.

So how do responsible businesses start to think intentionally about the youth agenda? I would challenge businesses to ask the right questions. Some starting questions could be:

  • How do we know what young people think of our recruitment process?
  • Are we reaching young people who could be the next intrapreneurs – an employee who innovates within their organisation – to move our industry to the next level?
  • How do we hold ourselves accountable to create this change?

I think that the easiest way for businesses to answer these questions is to give young people a seat at the table, making space for collaborative solutions.

My work with the Youth Justice Board has shown me that young people can help to steer strategy and provide solutions in the criminal justice sector – this should be the norm throughout the public, third and private sectors. Young people are one of the greatest untapped resources in our country. With so many ideas, innovations, and dynamic perspectives, we cannot afford to avoid their contribution when it comes to problem solving in business and our wider society. I think now is the time for businesses to be bold and collaborative to support the growing youth unemployment and mental health crisis.

More about Jacob Sakil

Jacob has been involved with Business in the Community (BITC) since 2014 on our Youth Advisory Panel, which worked alongside the Race Leadership Team and Department for Work and Pensions to examine systemic issues contributing to higher levels of unemployment among young people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.

What can your business do?

BITC is asking its members to take action in three important ways to tackle inequality in education and employment and help the UK build back responsibly.

  1. Target and engage disadvantaged pupils and jobseekers with your work placement programmes, including any Kickstart placements you may be providing. 
  2. Develop essential skills by adopting the Skills Builder Universal Framework in your education, employability, recruitment, and employee development activity, making it easier for people to move into and between jobs and industries.   
  3. Make your jobs and apprenticeships more accessible when recruiting, actively removing barriers such as educational qualifications, the criminal records tick-box, location, and fixed working patterns when they are not truly essential for the role, and which deter disadvantaged and diverse groups from applying.  

Talk to one of our expert team today to learn how membership of BITC can help you take your responsible business journey further and drive lasting change.


¹ Youth unemployment statistics: January 2021 – UK Parliament
² Young people “unable to cope with life” since pandemic, warns Prince’s Trust: January 2021 – Prince’s Trust