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Young people and employment: opportunities, cliques, harassment and low minimum wage

Sheffield Young Advisors and Sheffield Futures held the Festival of Debate’s first event of the year. Their survey with young people aged 18-24 highlights the issues young people face within employment in 2022.

Hunterhill Road, Sheffield
Benjamin Elliott

At the Festival of Debate event, Sheffield Young Advisors and Sheffield Futures discussed the survey they carried out with 11 young people. The Young Advisors are people aged 16-25, from diverse backgrounds, from across Sheffield. During this event we heard from: Kate Hardy, Elliot Askwith, John Slingsby and Maya Middleton-Welch.

The Young Advisors firstly presented to us issues with pay and working hours for young people in their findings. They found that the lower rates of minimum wage make working shifts unaffordable and young people felt that boundaries between working and education commitments were regularly not respected. Also some of them had zero-hour contracts creating problems from cancelled shifts and lockdowns.

One advisor said: “Age should never be a factor in earning less. Workers should be rewarded based on their skills and responsibilities.

“Issues like these can be resolved by having an understanding employer and clearer pay progression routes.”

Another problem the researchers found was workplace culture and being on the outside of ‘cliques’ due to employees already knowing each other. Also, understanding workplace etiquette and the unwritten rules of each organisation.

Some recommendations that came from this, to help young people in employment, were to encourage a caring culture through a buddy system, proper induction training and creating an environment where people feel comfortable in raising their concerns.

Speaker, Emily Humphreys, certified Chartered Accountant who has a keen eye for organisation, business efficiency and growth said: “Going into a workplace where people are already in established friendships can be hard. The pandemic was especially tough for people and companies should be supporting young people in their employment.”

Young people working
Dylan Gillis

They then shared their findings about young people's experiences with training and support in the workplace. Many of the young people interviewed felt that their training wasn't enough and they were thrown in at the deep end. One of the interviewees was told: “You’re smart, you can do it,” in a condescending and not helpful way.

It was discussed that having mentors and role models within the workplace are often really great ways for young people to feel more comfortable and involved. One of the young advisors said: “I had a teacher I felt mentored by in school. They took me from level 1 to level 2 in my qualification, I was the only one that got this,” showing the positive impact mentors can have on young people.

Speaker Martin McKervey, who had a career in the legal profession spanning over 30 years said, “It is so important to be hearing from young people about young people. What future are we creating for young people? In business we think we know what young people want but actually discussions like this first hand are very important.”

The Young Advisors then presented their findings from talking to people about gender inequalities within employment. Some of the people they spoke to had received inappropriate comments in employment across different industries. One read: “I was called a ‘little girl’ at work”; remarks like these resulted in lower confidence among women in the workplace.

Some recommendations the Young Advisors gave for addressing gender inequalities are to actively tackle gender harassment, recognise work equally despite gender and actively develop an awareness of inequalities that affect experiences of the workplace including training.

Young Advisor Kate Hardy said, “I was once spoken over at work. All it took was one person to say ‘actually Kate was talking’. I felt valued after that comment and I still look back on it.”

Finally, discussions about work experience were shared. They showed that around half of young people had completed some form of work experience and that it is not always available from schools. Young people found that it helped them discover what careers were suitable for them at an early stage and rule out ones they didn’t want. A recommendation was that employers reach out to schools and offer work experience.

Martin McKervey added, “We need socially responsible businesses that don’t let bad behaviours grow and develop. No humans should face challenges in a work environment. It’s about growing networks and making young people’s voices louder. Young people are the future.”

Learn more

See the rest of this year's Festival of Debate events here.

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