When speaking to a young person about the issues they face, or the challenges they foresee in their future, you can almost guarantee that employment is going to be somewhere at the top of their list.
Critically, this is not just among those without academic qualifications, as young people from all walks of life are feeling the pressures of an increasingly volatile job market.
It was with these conversations in the back of my mind that I attended the European Youth Forum’s conference on quality employment and sustainable development as a representative from YMCA Europe’s Youth Policy Group.
Throughout the two days the notion of ‘quality jobs’ came up time and time again. Namely, what does a quality job look like in today’s society, or perhaps more importantly, in tomorrow’s society?
At a basic level, the answer is obvious – both morally, and within the context of Agenda 2030, it is critical that notions of sustainability are at the heart of everything we do, including job creation.
But when I think back to the conversations I have with young people it seems apparent, and perfectly reasonably so, that the needs of the individual often trump those of wider society and the environment. For those struggling to make ends meet and find their way in the world, it is often a case of a job at any cost.
I think it can be easy to forget these young people as we involve ourselves in policy discussions. As we move towards big principled ideas we can overlook the needs of those we work with on a day-to-day basis and in the here and now.
The challenge we face as influences of change is how to harmonise these two perspectives.
I think it is clear that systematic change is needed so that young people are not faced with the dilemma of whether to choose between their principles and employment. So that sustainability becomes a norm rather than an external concept that only some are able to consider.
As I work with my colleagues from across Europe in the European Youth Forum’s Expert Group on the Future of Work I hope that we will be able to provide tangible recommendations to help ease the pressure on young people and allow them to make their way in the world.
The future of work is uncertain. However, it is clear that the challenges presented in the coming years will not be confined to the boarders of the England, Wales, or the United Kingdom.
Even in the face of Brexit, we are still inextricably linked to our neighbours in Europe, and indeed the world. As such, we require a coordinated approach to meet the needs of the changing job market.
That is why conferences such as these are so important. They allow young people to come together from across Europe and utilise their shared experience to try and create positive change.
The European Youth Forum’s Conference on Quality Jobs and Sustainable Development may have only been a first step, but it was a vital one. I look forward to taking the outcomes forward with my European counterparts in the Expert Group.