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The voice of a lost generation? - Adrian Wakeling

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Through the screen doors separating the two main meeting rooms at this year's TUC Congress, I could hear rounds of fervent clapping and applause. It's not surprising. The stable diet of TUC fringe events are the real issues affecting workers in Britain today, like pay, poverty, working conditions and mental health.
Adrian Wakeling Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window

Adrian Wakeling

Adrian is a Senior Policy Analyst at Acas and is part of a team responsible for informing the future strategic direction of Acas and influencing the wider debate on the value of employment relations.

In the room next door to Unite's meeting on 'Real Britain - battling austerity', the Acas/TUC meeting was looking at the problem of youth employment. We have, rightly, heard a lot about the  'lost generation' of over 1,300,000 NEETS (young people not in work, training or full-time education), potentially scarred by precarious work or long periods of unemployment. But when it comes to the voice of a generation, it can be just as hard for young people entering the workplace to be heard.

The biggest danger when talking about young people, as Acas' CEO Anne Sharp pointed out, is resorting to stereotyping. Anne reminded the meeting that every generation has to learn from scratch how to communicate with the generations that follow. This dialogue doesn't always happen of its own accord and CIPD's Katerina Rutiger spoke of the way the CIPD are trying to influence employer's behaviour when it comes to engaging with young people and bridging the "huge disconnect" between the hopes of young people entering the workplace and the expectations of managers.

The issue of youth employment may not be a fringe issue compared to, say, European debt but, as TUC's Fred Grindrod said, getting young people into good, sustainable jobs is embedded in all of the main themes of this year's congress - namely 'jobs, growth and fair pay'.

Hands up: there weren't many young people at our fringe event, but then I'm not sure how many young people were at the TUC Congress. Reaching young people was an issue that concerned all three speakers and the informed audience.

There are things that can be done to reassure young people and help them to start work on the right footing: schools and employers can help to teach young people about their rights at work, and mentoring schemes at work can make the acclimatisation process less traumatic. Every organisation also seems to be waking up to the need to involve young people in any action planning about 'what young people need' and to use the right communication channels, like social media.

So what are young people saying? They are saying that they do not know what to expect when they start work, they like to get feedback on how there are performing and they appreciate honesty from their employer. Find out what else they have to say in the Acas reseach paper pdf  Young people's views and experiences on entering the workplace [371kb] published this week.

Also, look out for the new guide to managing young people at work which is to be published by CIPD, Acas and Unionlearn on 27 February.

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