Together with the lasting scars of the Covid-19 pandemic, the current cost of living crisis is providing the perfect melting pot of circumstances impacting young people in Wales, their mental health, confidence, and education.  But despite this, Blaenau Gwent’s Youth Engagement and Progression Coordinator, Liam Thomas, explains why young people in Wales still have lots to be positive about.

There’s no denying that young people across Wales have been facing unprecedented challenges when it comes to shaping their futures.

For those in school, learning has looked a lot different over the last three years. With digital learning becoming more prominent and face-to-face contact minimalised, young people – especially those aged 16 and over – have had to work and think in different ways to navigate their education and access services.

 

This has led to some young people disengaging, and for some young people, when they’ve reintegrated into the school environment, their mental health has deteriorated further. For others, it’s not been possible for them to return to the school environment at all which has further diminished their motivation to engage with learning.

And it’s had the same impact for some young people looking at their options when they’ve left school too. For those looking to get into employment, further education or training, the world looked very different which has for some lead to anxieties increasing and health conditions worsening.

Although barriers were already in place for some young people in Wales, we’ve seen these cohorts grow over the last few years and the legacy of the pandemic, together with the cost-of-living crisis, has only served to exasperate the gap between those already struggling and those not.

Things have been far from ideal, but there are rays of light that young people can and should be looking to.

It’s important that young people know and understand that they don’t have to go it alone, either. At the end of 2021, in addition to successful Youth Engagement and Progression Framework, the Welsh Government introduced ‘The Young Person’s Guarantee’ which promises everyone under the age of 25 the offer of support to gain a place in education or training, find a job, or become self-employed.

 

In Blaenau Gwent we have a rich tapestry of services and support available on both a local scale and through Welsh Government funded programmes, which allows us to continue do a lot of quality work with young people in the area. Despite the challenges the pandemic threw up, we’ve still been able to offer a range of support and services through existing partnerships and funding which has seen positive outcomes for young people in our area. The introduction of the Young Person’s Guarantee has only served to strengthen the resources and programmes available, opening up even more opportunities for young people to build their futures.

There are standardised regional programmes delivered in partnership with the Welsh Government, like Jobs Growth Wales+, as well as local triage workers, monthly post-16 meetings, and lots of early intervention work taking place in schools to try and support young people while they are still in education.

There have also been a lot of other services and support set up that have been shaped around young people. There are community counselors , designated mental health, physical and emotional wellbeing workers who can support individuals facing challenges so it’s not just about getting work-ready in the traditional sense.  We’re also really fortunate that we have good links to housing and social services too, which is particularly important during the cost-of-living crisis for those facing poverty.

 

As well as the bigger factors at play, small communities like Blaenau Gwent also have to contend with other, deep-rooted issues which can weigh on young people’s aspirations – like generations of families not at work or only working in certain industries.

Quite often, all of these factors can leave young people feeling shoe-horned into jobs and courses or along paths that aren’t right for them and don’t allow them to thrive.

We can’t escape the context in which we are living, but there is a whole raft of support out there for young people in Wales to take advantage of, which means they can still take ownership of shaping their own future.

 

We should be doing all we can to help our future generations feel positive about what lies ahead of them.

 

Some young people feel that if they don’t do well in school then that’s the end of the line for them as far as opportunities to carve a successful future for themselves go. As a result, staying in school or in traditional routes of education is the right path for some young people, but not for others. There is a whole range of opportunities for young people in Blaenau Gwent from apprenticeships, paid work placements, training, college and volunteering. Everyone has a different setting in which they can flourish, some just need more support finding that setting and overcoming their own challenges so that they can reach their full potential.

 

For those looking to get into the world of work, there are plenty of opportunities out there right now, with companies on a big recruitment drive. We find that some young people just need a helping hand navigating those opportunities to find the ones that are right for them, or need a bit of extra support with barriers they may be facing so that they can open more doors.

It’s easy to see why some young people may still feel disheartened by the wider context of the world today, but you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface to find there is a huge range of opportunities and avenues of support out there that can help them build a positive future for themselves.

Whether it’s mental or physical health or financial barriers at play, there is help available and we all have a role to play in making sure our young people know how and where to get the help they need to succeed.