Today marks International Youth Day and our commitment to support youth engagement for global action. Never has such a campaign been so vital for the UK, as we face outwards as a nation in response to the pandemic, global recession and climate challenge. It recognises, empowers and emboldens young people as an essential part of the solution to those global challenges ‘beyond borders’. It is fundamental to society and our democracy: when young people have a sense of belonging, our communities are stronger. This includes a commitment to and the inclusion of young people in decision-making, to shape policies and inform services that reflect the experiences and ambitions of young people.

Youth engagement lies at the heart of youth work. Across social media today we’ve seen countless great examples of youth engagement, across hundreds of different organisations in so many countries.  We celebrate that work led by young people today and as a key part of Youth Work Week to be held later this year, 2-6 November, with our collective vision and central theme – ‘Ambitious for Youth Work’.

Making informed decisions

Young people’s social networks and lives are often fluid and can be transient. This can create a large difference between how young people understand the world and how adults think young people understand the world. It can also create a difference in each groups’ priorities. When adults make decision for young people, they come at those decisions from the wrong point-of-view or assumptions. Engaging young people helps ensure that this is not the case by putting young people at the heart of leading and informing decision making.

At least 4 in 10 young people want to be involved in decisions that affect their local area, and make a difference to the lives of people who live there; but only 2 in 10 believe they can, and only about 1 in 3 know how they can do this. At the same time many young people engage in active participation because they enjoy it, it makes them ‘feel good’, and they ‘want to make a difference’. There is also clear evidence that the greater the level of participation a young person is involved in, the greater increase in their confidence.

Sustainable relationships

When young people see changes made because of them, they are more likely to remain engaged in that change later in life. By facilitating and empowering young people’s active participation, many adults will begin to understand where young people are coming from, and see young people as contributors, shapers and invested partners. This helps break down stereotypes, incorporates a culture of continuous development and is a great way of creating sustainable relationships, for individual, collective and community benefit. Creating opportunities to engage young people directly can help foster community cohesion and break down any social barriers that exist (intergenerational or other).

Skills and employment

As we enter the deepest recession since records began and a rapidly changing world of future jobs and careers, employers are increasingly looking for a wider skill-set than just academic qualifications.  This is not simply vocational and includes managerial and decision-making skills which increasingly automated processes are least able to replicate. It also creates opportunities for young people to experience a more diverse understanding of both skills for life and the workplace, and the hugely diverse employment opportunities that are out there – including those that they can create for themselves.

Often young people come up with solutions and suggestions that are not only far cheaper, but also far simpler to implement than those suggested by adults. Young people can be creative, innovative, entrepreneurial and resourceful, and should have the space to demonstrate this – teaching trusted adults as they go.

Ambitious for Youth Work

NYA is delighted to join forces with the Commonwealth Secretariat and others across the youth sector to get ready for Youth Work Week in November. We want to build on the stories from today’s International Day for Young People and engage young people in our preparations, central to the week of celebrations – supporting young people in the present, confident and ambitious for their future.

~Leigh Middleton, NYA CEO

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