The Prince’s Trust has recently revealed that hundreds of thousands of young adults are either facing or battling mental illness due to a lack of jobs and desirable secure futures. The survey reports the hit that many young people have taken as a result of not being able to find a job. High unemployment figures of over one million 16- 24 year olds across the UK and an even higher proportion across certain parts of Europe (where the continental average is 22%), have stayed persistent for a while have acted as deterrents towards securing a hopeful future, leaving an unfortunately large proportion of young adults out of the picture and feeling hopeless.
I don’t doubt that this is a widespread discouragement felt across the university population, either. For many of us, and increasingly competitive market has meant that postgraduate degrees have become the default ‘next step’ in order to secure the careers that we desire that is, if we know the career we wish to pursue post-graduation. However, it is no longer guaranteed that even qualifications will provide a shield against joblessness. Nonetheless, and without wanting to adopt a pessimistic outlook, the hike in tuition fees has not negatively affected the number of undergraduate applications to university, which has the potential to improve international opportunities for graduates if such opportunity is unavailable in the UK.
While the focus has long been on the economic impact of youth unemployment, I believe it is just as, if not, more important and will potentially be more impactful in the future to consider the effect that high unemployment figures and a lack of opportunity is having on the wellbeing of young people, whether graduates or not. The instability and uncertainty which has been caused by ever-decreasing opportunity in the job sector has resulted in almost 40% of unemployment victims being affected by mental illness, low self-esteem and deflating confidence. Furthermore, The Princes Trust reveals that 75% of young people affected feel that they have nothing to live for, with one third of those in long-term unemployment having contemplated suicide. The problem of unemployment has always been more profound than its figures however, this is an often forgotten reality. Especially among younger victims, feelings of depression and vulnerability as a result of this are highly understandable; a concurrent theme running through the testimonies of a few of the young people interviewed revealed concerns towards the hope they have for their futures not just economically, but emotionally as well. The optimism and ambition held by those affected has diminished and become replaced with feelings of unworthiness.
Furthermore, not only does concern lie in a lack of jobs, but there is also an issue in the kind of opportunities available for young people. Temporary and part-time jobs which many students take on as a supplement to their income while studying, can become the form of employment that they stay in for a long while after leaving education. For most, this is not initially anticipated and as a result, the problem lies in many young people feeling as though they will be left unable to fulfill their ambitions due to a lack of wider opportunity. Consequently, questions arise concerning the value that apprenticeships, work experience and further education hold, if a disproportionate amount of participants are not able to pursue their desired paths.
However, all hope is not lost. Mentoring programs and organisations such as The Princes Trust provide a solution and source of inspiration where other options have failed. Also, a dismal economy has not suppressed the innovative spirit of some: the absence of jobs has led an unprecedented 71,000 affected by youth unemployment to start their own enterprises, according to the ONS. Ultimately, while these are encouraging figures, I believe that in a situation such as this, where a lack of employment has been shown to negatively affect personal wellbeing and not just ‘the economy’, rebuilding confidence and self-worth within individuals affected will be more effective in helping our generation to overcome feelings of angst caused by a loss of ambition ad opportunity.