by Shona Nichols, CEO, Aldridge Foundation

A recent report from The Prince’s Trust revealed a, frankly, heart breaking ‘loss of hope’ among young people. In this study, 44% of 16- to 25-year olds say their aspirations for the future are now lower, as a result of the pandemic.

And it’s clear why. I’ve read report after report about the damaging impact of the current pandemic on young people – an impact that’s worse still for those already at a disadvantage. The research, carried out by Censuswide, showed that 41% of young people believe their future goals now seem ‘impossible to achieve’, a figure which rose to 50% among those surveyed who were from poorer backgrounds.

Are we risking the ‘Covid generation’ label becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Teenagers and young people, more usually dubbed Generation Z, are already being labelled the ‘Covid generation’, or even the ‘lost generation’. Although they are largely avoiding the virus itself, their lives have been hugely affected in many other ways – educationally, socially and psychologically. Not to mention the wider economic effects of the pandemic – worsening poverty, food insecurity, financial stress, and the lack of work and training opportunities.

Dr Dasha Nicholls, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and part of the You-Cope study into young people’s health and wellbeing during the pandemic, warns:

“This generation is entering uncharted territory, where their opportunities have been devastated. People talk of the resilience of the young but this crisis has happened so quickly that young people have had no time to change and adapt. The impact on them could become entrenched, with potentially enduring consequences.”

We have to act fast to prevent the young generation from becoming a generation that is forever locked into feeling alienated and disaffected, with little hope, or aspirations.

What can we do to change the narrative of hopelessness?

Since the start of the pandemic, we keep hearing that, for our mental wellbeing, we need to focus on the things we can control, rather than the things we can’t. And I firmly believe we should be following this same mantra when it comes to supporting young people.

There are definitely some positive actions we can all take to help raise aspirations, open up opportunities and to develop and build key skills to help young people cope with a changing world.

Our charity, the Aldridge Foundation, has always focused on raising aspirations, and on nurturing employability and life skills and an enterprising mindset that, we believe, are key to a successful future – and seem particularly relevant to a post-pandemic future. The work we do is all built around giving all young people an equal chance at life, whatever their background.

Right now, young people – particularly those from a disadvantaged background, living in deprived areas – are facing bigger barriers than ever when it comes to educational achievement and employment. So we’re also focusing on immediate, additional measures that will directly help the 7,000 young people we support. These are:

  • ensuring equal access to digital distance learning
  • supporting the mental health and wellbeing of students and teachers
  • closing the learning gap through outside school catch-up initiatives
  • partnering with employers to share internship, mentoring, training and job opportunities.

And, of course, we need to raise additional funds to meet this expanded demand for support.

There are lots of likeminded organisations doing what they can to help young people. But, imagine how big the impact would be if government, employers, grant providers and other complementary charities all worked together to a common agenda?

The pandemic will end and we will need young people more than ever to help drive forward the economy, but we need to let them know that. And we need to help them be resilient, to be open to new ways of doing things, and to develop the ability and motivation to create better life chances for themselves. 

We can’t retrospectively erase the effects of the pandemic, but together we can go some way towards instilling hope and helping young people create better outcomes for themselves and their countries.

If you, or your organisation, are open to collaboration to start helping young people rewrite their futures, or can help in any other way, please get in touch.