The UK’s unemployment rate is about 4.6% of the population, yet the youth unemployment rate is three times this. The pandemic has caused inequalities to widen in all areas of society, and youth employment is no different. It has had a disproportionate effect on the lives of young people who have suffered the majority of the negative economic impacts of lockdowns and other COVID measures. However, there could be a simple way to help solve this – sport. This is because the skills that employers want are cultivated in sports, often inadvertently preparing young people for employment. Research shows that children and teenagers who participate in sports are more likely to be successful in gaining employment and earn more money on average than those who did not play sports growing up.
Youth sports can help provide the “soft skills” considered essential for employment. Sport promotes qualities that employers want from their employees, including being hard-working, respectful, punctual and disciplined. These qualities are integral to being both a good employee and a good sportsman. If we can help young people build these skills in a fun, less-pressurised environment than the classroom, where many individuals will be more receptive to learning, this is surely a huge win! In fact, a study from Leeds Beckett University, where 10,000 young people were provided with sports coaching, found almost three-quarters (74%) of those who took part in the activity boosted their career prospects. Additionally, 4,000 of the young people went on to volunteer in their local communities.
Sport provides social development for young people and can help them transition from life on the edge of crime to secure, fulfilling employment. Youth sport offers a route to employment via non-traditional means, which is perfect for people who aren’t stereotypically “academic” or do not enjoy the classroom environment. It can provide a transitory space from crime to employment and is less intimidating than going straight into a job. There isn’t a right way to learn or grow, and we need more alternative routes to employment so that those who do not respond well to traditional education don’t get left behind.
Street League is one of the organisations in the UK using the power of sport to help young people out of poverty and into meaningful education, training or employment. They work with young people aged 14-30 from some of the most disadvantaged communities across the UK. Their objective is to instil positivity and confidence in young people, opening them up to new opportunities and encouraging them to achieve their goals. Sport allows Street League to engage with young people in an alternative way to traditional education, capturing their imagination and showing that learning doesn’t have to be boring. They help young people build essential life skills and overcome any personal and practical barriers they face in employment.
To conclude, while sport is not a standalone solution to youth unemployment, it is certainly an attractive option for many young people who would benefit from an alternative route into jobs or careers. We need to invest more time, money and energy into different avenues to employment and improve job accessibility to all.