Can the Church do anything about youth unemployment in our country?

Whilst unemployment is bad news for anyone, it is particularly heartbreaking to see so many young people out of work.  The latest round of statistics came out this morning and show that unemployment among 16 to 24 year-olds is now running at 22%.  This BBC article published today summarises the long term effects that being unemployed early on in adult life can cause.  It’s not good news for the individuals, their communities or society as a whole.

One of the frustrating aspects of working in education is seeing how horribly underprepared many students are for the workplace when they leave school.  I don’t blame the teachers as they are only teaching the syllabuses and programmes they have been given.  Most young people looking to find a job have recieved very little advice during their time in education on how to apply for jobs and conduct themselves at interviews.  They are unfamiliar with the rules of the workplace, how to work effectively in a team, and often, even if they are academically able, they lack some basic literacy and numeracy skills commonly needed in the world of work.  You can’t expect someone fresh out of education to have a high level of maturity and understanding, but even so, it’s not really surprising employers are generally favouring older workers over younger ones at the moment.  I’m sure a lot of teachers would agree with me on this and I know a lot of employers would.  The government has made some positive noises recently and their response to the Wolf report on vocational education appears to be a step in the right direction.  However in recent years we’ve seen other reviews and reports come out with the government subsequently watering them down or ignoring them, so it’s no guarantee of change.  The only difference at the moment is that the stakes are higher in the current economic climate, and these sort of situations tend to focus politicians’ thinking and provide impetus for decisions to be made.

I believe that the church could and should be able to do more to support these young people and adults.  A survey by the National Youth Agency in 2000 calculated that the equivalent of 7,220 full-time paid youth workers were employed by England and Wales by local authorities compared to approximately 7,900 full-time paid youth workers employed by the Church.  These figures do not include volunteers, who tend to be more numerous in the church.  The gap is likely to be even wider now that many authorities have cut back on their youth services.  The Church in our country is the biggest youth work provider; we have the potential to reach a huge number of those looking to find work for the first time.  There are also vast numbers of people in our church congregations who understand what is required to gain and be effective in employment.  Many have the skills and/or time to give towards this need.  The opportunity is there for churches to deliver support and advice to those who need it at a time when the state is not doing the job most of us would expect of it.

I’ve been looking around the internet to see what churches are doing in this area at present and the good news is that there are churches and Christian organisations working in their locality to meet the needs of the unemployed. I had less success when targeting my searches towards the young.  I did find this helpful blog post by a Mike Stark, a Scottish youth worker.  He discusses his church’s response but also has some relevant points for all churches.

There is still a need for plenty of churches round the nation to consider what they can offer those in search of work.  In these difficult times, when there are far too few jobs to go round, even if all we can offer is practical and emotional support then surely that would be something that God would want us to do.

Categories: Benefits & unemployment, Church, Education

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