We need to connect with young people using technology
As the number of unemployed young people (16 – 24) in the UK continues to hover around the one million mark, a perception persists amongst some professionals that these unemployed people are also disengaged, at odds with and disconnected from society.
With my expertise in young people’s engagement, I beg to differ. Rather, what I witness on a daily basis is that although young people are very much engaged, it’s the adults around them who aren’t accessing the tools that they are using, namely digital technology – in order to communicate with them.
Indeed, what I’m finding is that some professionals working in this space such as politicians, healthcare workers and youth workers are scared of using online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to talk to young people as the results are perceived to be unpredictable and unquantifiable.
I was fortunate enough to be involved in a debate at the Hay Festival recently, hosted by social investor Nominet Trust and UK Youth, which pointed out, the only way in which we will successfully reach the 7.4 million 16-24 year olds in the UK is if we think about how to do things differently and communicate through the channels young people are actively using.
Of course, within this change of outlook, it’s important to consider the diversity of experiences and opportunities which young people in Britain face. Resources such as the one being developed by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (which will allow users to compare the educational, employment and personal circumstances of young adults in every neighbourhood across England), will be optimal in highlighting opportunities and then tailoring interventions accordingly.
In addition to the widely known O2 Think Big which finds, trains and funds young people with fantastic new ideas to help their own communities, there are many other upcoming digital projects which aim to address these issues and continue participation.
In addition to how digital technology can engage young people, it’s also important to explore how it can be used more effectively by those working alongside them. We should for example think about the changing roles of teachers, youth workers and other ‘intermediary roles’ that support our young people and consider how they can develop new ways of working using digital technology to ensure that all young people, including the 70% of people in social housing who aren’t currently online, get online.
All this is something that UK Youth’s Youth Achievement Foundations are already doing so well. They are small independent schools which are using a wide range of technology to support their students to re-engage with learning. They work with young people who are excluded or at risk or exclusion and find that sharing success stories via You Tube helps motivate and inspire their young people. Another of UK Youth’s programme’s “Gen2Gen” is just getting off the ground and will use technology to bring young people and older people together to reduce social exclusion and build relationships.
One view which was discussed during the recent Hay Festival debate on youth engagement is that teachers need support in helping young people become creative ‘digital citizens’. This isn’t to say that teachers need to be experts in digital technology themselves but that these facilities and services need to be developed and available. Similarly not all youth workers need to move their support online like Youthnet but exploring how on and offline worlds merge is significant.
With all of this in mind, it’s positive to see that charitable organisations such as Nominet Trust are taking the lead. For instance, it has just launched a £2 million investment programme to fund ideas for new ways of using digital technology to improve young people’s economic and social participation. Whether it’s using online platforms to support micro-employment, capitalising on existing networks to galvanise peer mentoring; or using new technology to improve the relationships between young people and those who support them, the funding is open to anyone who can demonstrate innovative approaches in this space.
As the economy continues to deliver blow after blow for today’s young adults, it’s easy to label these individuals as ‘disengaged ‘NEETS.’ However, this makes it all too easy to apportion blame to the young people themselves when we should be focussed on how to better support them. We need to think laterally and develop solutions which will really reach the audience and make a positive difference.Tagged in: digital citizens, digital technology, Hay Festival, social networking, unemployment, young people, youth, Youthnet
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