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Covid students edited

We must stop characterising Generation Covid as a 'lost generation'

Sharon Davies
November 5, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected the lives of the young across our nation. We need to support them through this immensely challenging time.Yet, their pragmatism, courage and resilience has proven that we should not call them a 'lost generation', writes Sharon Davies.

Young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. A generation who are at low risk of being severely medically affected by the virus, are bearing the brunt of the economic impact, with BBC Panorama finding that young people aged 16-25 were more than twice as likely as their older colleagues to have lost their job, while a staggering six in 10 have seen their earnings fall.

This is not a problem unique to the workplace. For recent graduates and undergraduates, finding jobs and internships has been more difficult in a compressed labour market, where they are competing against experienced and more skilled workers who had lost their jobs. For many young people at school the recession and expected long-term impact of the pandemic has impacted their confidence and their own view of their job prospects down the line.

Yet while we hear plenty about the way the pandemic has and will negatively impact young people, it is wrong – and in fact harmful – to label them as a 'lost generation'. The narrative we are building, where young people are victims of an economic recession they cannot control, does not tell the full story.

Young people have in fact shown themselves to be hugely resourceful in the face of a crisis, and the optimism, adaptability and creativity which many have shown demonstrates how capable young people are of fighting back and finding a new way to thrive. While Covid-19 has undeniably impacted young people economically, it has also helped to forge a new generation of driven and resilient young people with an enterprising mindset.

In our work at Young Enterprise, I've seen first-hand how young people have responded to the crisis. Rather than doing nothing in the face of economic turmoil, young people have started their own businesses, supported their communities, volunteered their time and campaigned for social justice. When young people faced the A-level exam results crisis this year, they did not sit back, but campaigned for change and for fair grades for all.

The qualities of an enterprising mindset fostered by the uncertain conditions – courage, resilience and drive – have already enabled young people to achieve fantastic things and, if they are given the right support, will undoubtedly enable young people to explore careers in new and strengthening sectors, as well as creating a new generation of businesses post pandemic.

So rather than lamenting a lost generation, we should be asking how we can support young people in developing this mindset and finding ways to thrive. More than ever, it is crucial that we expand the education we give young people beyond traditional academics, and provide more enterprise education in schools.

As young people face an increasingly uncertain job market, equipping them with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, from communication to problem solving, to teamwork to adaptability, could not be more important. We need to bridge the gap between educational institutions and businesses, and ensure for both students' and employers' sakes that young people are confident and prepared for the working world.

It is not just schools and universities who play a role here. Businesses, of course, must also get involved. Through directly engaging with young people, supporting them to develop business skills and providing them with a mentor, business leaders play an important part in bridging this gap and encouraging the development of an enterprising mindset.

Providing this kind of education is also a fundamental step in increasing social mobility. We cannot let young people's paths be determined by their social or regional background, and as the pandemic increasingly threatens social mobility and deepens regional divides, we must ensure young people are provided with meaningful opportunities to develop the skills with which they can enter the working world on an equal footing to each other.

So while it is true that young people are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic, we shouldn't characterise them as a 'lost generation', or doomed to fail. In fact, the pandemic has fostered a resilience and adaptability which, with the right support, will benefit young people long after the pandemic has gone. We owe it to young people to take this opportunity to foster this enterprising mindset and equip them with the skills and confidence to succeed and thrive, no matter which path they take.

So instead of emphasising the negative circumstances for young people, let's support them to develop an enterprising mindset, to be resilient and creative, and to remember that there is hope in the face of uncertainty and they do have options. This is the generation whose talents will help to drive our economic recovery, and we must all play a part in supporting them to go on and create as well achieve great things.

CEO of Young Enterprise, a national charity that motivates young people to succeed.
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