It's a new year; a time when we all reflect on ourselves and look at the improvements we can make in our lives. With this in mind, recent research from The Prince's Trust charity highlighted that 40% of young people who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) have experienced the devastating effects of mental health problems. What's more, almost a third of long-term unemployed young people have contemplated taking their own lives. It's heart-breaking to think of so many people waking up to a new year with such a sense of despondency, a lack of hope and an absence of direction. It's clear that urgent action needs to be taken.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions has responded to the findings by saying that the Government was "doing everything possible" to help young people into work... and there's no doubt that they're ringing the changes. The coalition has published its plans for Apprenticeships in England, Adult Vocational Qualifications reform, Level 2 and 3 Vocational Qualifications that carry performance points and its plans for a Technical Baccalaureate. All of these initiatives support a vision of rigour, high standards and quality provision in the sector.
Vocational qualification is a key tool in all of this; qualifications which build confidence, motivation and a positive mindset are crucial in helping young people to prepare for their future. This isn't just about giving people the skills they need to carry out a job, but also the attitude, the self-belief, the get-up-and-go, the resilience to face the tough jobs market that awaits them. We need to look at how we can give these young people a positive, holistic education that not only prepares them for work but also prepares them for life as well making them more rounded individuals.
Some of these young people have spent years in the dole queue, have been knocked back for job after job and have found themselves and their relationships defined by their 'unemployed' status. We need to recapture their imagination, their creativity and their passion for life. We need to remind them that they have something special, a talent, a skill that is needed and wanted. Einstein famously said that 'everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.' The quote has never been more true than in this instance. Let's remind young people of what they can do, rather than what they can't - we are only judging them as individuals who can bring something unique to the table.
Further education can seem an intimidating prospect for these young job hunters. After all, in some cases they left school or college some years ago and still find themselves out of work, asking themselves what use their qualifications are to them. We need to engage with them, support them with bite sized chunks of practical learning which will yield positive results for them.
NCFE offers a range of units available for individual registration and certification in subjects such as presenting yourself for work, solving problems, working in a team. We also offer over 130 English and Maths qualifications at different levels and sizes, ideal for those topping up the essential literacy and numeracy skills needed in any job.
Everyone needs to start somewhere so let's continue to work together to put these young people back on the road to happiness, one small step at a time.
David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation