Supporting Youth Through Education and Career Development in Uncertain Times

Tuesday, November 29, 2022 is #GivingTuesday, a day to celebrate and encourage giving in all its forms. Founded in 2012 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the day was created to encourage people to give back through charitable donations, volunteerism, and other acts of kindness.  As we approach Giving Tuesday, we think about the struggles people are facing in today’s world and try to understand how we can make a true difference. When we look back on the past few years, we can’t help but reflect on all the ways the pandemic has affected our lives. But for many of our young people, the effects have been especially profound. At HIEC, we know how important it is to invest in our youth—in their education, in their career development, in their overall well-being. When young people are supported, they can reach their full potential and make a positive impact on their communities and on the world.

To say the past few years have been a rollercoaster is an understatement. It has been a time of complete uncertainty for everyone. The pandemic has forced us to change the way we live and work, and as we approach the end of 2022, many of us are still adjusting to our new realities. For some, the pandemic has been a time of anxiety and stress, as we worry about our health and the health of our loved ones. Others have found it difficult to cope with the isolation and loneliness of lockdown. And for many of us, the economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating.

The Struggle is Real: Youth in the Post-Pandemic World

For youth, the challenges this uncertainty presents are heightened as it is a time when you are supposed to be making important decisions about your future. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, it’s important we acknowledge the challenges our young people are facing so we can understand what we can do as a community to give them the support they need.

Educational Challenges

One of the most immediate impacts of the pandemic has been school closures and the trimming back of educational programs. In March 2020, schools in countries all over the world began shutting down. For many students, this meant shifting to remote learning overnight. While some were able to adapt relatively easily, others struggled with the transition. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Victoria found that children who learned remotely during COVID-19 reported feeling as if they mattered less than their peers studying in person.

The pandemic has also had a profound effect on the financial availability of educational support programs. Across the globe, governments were forced to balance their budgets, and funding for education programs were cut back, putting a strain on the resources available to students. In some cases, this has meant reducing the number of days or hours that a program is available. In other cases, it has meant eliminating entire programs altogether. This has put a huge stress on families who rely on these programs for their children’s education. In addition, it has made it difficult for new programs to get off the ground.

Career Development Challenges

The pandemic has also taken a toll on young people’s career development prospects. The International Labour Organization (ILO) recently released a report providing insight into the state of youth employment. The findings show the pandemic has had a greater impact on youth employment than any other age group. The global total of the number of unemployed youth is estimated to reach 73 million by the end of 2022, and although that is a small improvement from 2021 (75 million), it is an astounding six million above the pre-pandemic count at 2019. The report states, “Youth still lag far behind in their ability to secure jobs and move out into lives as productive members of society.”

Furthermore, many young people who are still employed are working fewer hours than they were pre-pandemic or are underemployed (i.e., working in jobs that are below their skill level). This makes it difficult for youth to gain hands-on experience and explore what they would like to pursue as their future career. Not to mention it adds a financial roadblock for them to invest in their education and future. With businesses still struggling to recover from the pandemic, it may be some time before we see a rebound in employment opportunities for young people globally

Personal Challenges

Along with educational and career-related challenges, let us not undervalue the increased levels of anxiety and isolation during the pandemic. The closure of places like museums, libraries, and gyms has limited opportunities for cultural enrichment and physical activity. And with the social distancing measures that were in place, many youths have been cut off from their friends and extended family members, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation. One study found that anxiety levels among children aged 13-17 rose sharply during lockdown measures, with nearly 1 in 5 reporting symptoms that met criteria for a diagnosis of clinical anxiety disorder. It’s clear to say the pandemic has taken an emotional toll on our young people and that many are struggling to cope with its effects.

Now Is the Time: Empowering Youth Through Opportunity

Post pandemic, it is more important than ever to support our youth during this time of recovery and economic slowdown. The youth of today are tomorrow’s leaders. They are the ones who will be tasked with carrying us into the future and making the world a better place. That is why it is so important to empower them with the tools they need to succeed.  With many businesses struggling to bounce back, it is vital that we provide them with opportunity and invest in our future by supporting programs that help youth succeed.

One very impactful avenue is mentorship programs. By pairing students with successful professionals, students can learn first-hand what it takes to build a successful career and can become inspired to pursue their dreams and reach their full potential. Mentors provide guidance and support, and can introduce young people to new opportunities and experiences—such as internships, jobs shadowing, or college visits—that they may not otherwise have had access to. These experiences can help spark an interest in a particular field or profession and pave the way for future success.

In addition to mentorship programs, programs that offer scholarships or career counseling services are absolutely critical for many of the youth in our communities. From personal career exploration, to resume writing workshops, to job search strategies and interview prep, support at all stages of career development is needed.

We have seen firsthand the effects that these supports have on young people. The value of co-op programs and apprenticeship opportunities have a drastic effect on the development of important life skills, skills we take for granted—such as time management, communication, and problem solving—that are learned through experience.

Looking Ahead: A Personal Message from HIEC

Amidst all the uncertainty, it is important we recognize there have been moments of hope and connection. We have seen communities come together to support one another, and we have seen incredible acts of kindness and generosity. We have also been reminded of what is truly important in life – our health, our relationships, and our sense of community.

As we enter 2023, let us all resolve to hold on to these things that matter most and do what we can to support each other to better our collective future. At HIEC, that means supporting our youth, as we believe that every young person deserves an opportunity to succeed—regardless of their circumstances or background. We work hard to remove barriers and create pathways for youth to feel supported and help them to not only gain a better understanding of who they are but to have what they need to enter into rewarding careers in thriving industries.

Please join us in celebrating Giving Tuesday by making a donation to HIEC. For non-profits, Giving Tuesday provides a much-needed boost in funding that can help to continue important work. Your donation will make a real difference in the lives of young people who are eager to build a bright future for themselves and their communities.

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