Skip to main content

How young people can build skills for employment in a changing world

Emily Loud, Wonder Foundation

If you’ve never had a job before, how can you get one? This is a real question facing millions of young people across Europe amid uncertainty and high youth unemployment - but they need not despair. In truth, there is an ongoing gap between what young people learn at school and what employers want from them. But whatever their background or career ambitions, young people can find opportunities to learn new skills, even in unexpected places.

Our recent report on youth employability in four European countries explores key tactics that young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can use to make the leap from school to the workplace. Here are our top tips: 

Volunteer or be part of a team

Opportunities present themselves when you least expect them, including in your local community centre, soup kitchen or football pitch. Anything you do outside of school that involves working with others can help you build the skills you need to get your first job. Hobbies, sports and volunteer placements can all teach you general skills that are essential for the world of work. Playing in a team can help you work on your collaboration skills, volunteering can help you manage your time well, and creative hobbies could help you with perserverence and attention to detail. 

Reflect on and target key skills 

Your future employer will only be able to assess your range of skills if you are able to explain them coherently and give examples. This makes reflection really important. Thinking critically about what specific experiences have taught you and writing them down can help you gather the examples and ideas you need to clearly demonstrate your talents. Having a clear understanding of what you have learned is also helpful for highlighting what you haven’t. Technology can also help you keep track of your skills profile as you develop. iGro - an app created by young people and for young people as part of the Easier Transitions project - helps young people target nine key skills that (according to our research) big employers think are essential for young recruits. Which of these could you do better on?

Share experiences, and speak up so decision-makers can hear you!

If policy-makers don't understand the skills gaps that young people face, how can they remedy them? So it’s up to you to share your questions, debates and ideas with anyone who will listen. Although there aren't as many opportunities for this as there should be, options remain: from research projects like ours where young Europeans worked directly on the interventions to help them and their peers, to UK based initiatives that aim to let young people have their say on a range of issues. 

Sharing points of view with people from different backgrounds and countries matters too. It can help bring fresh perspectives and allow students to share their different strengths. Plus, it can directly prepare you to work in international teams and fare better in the globalised employment economy. So go ahead and get your school to match you with a European pen pal, join in a youth consultation session or just strike up conversation with someone unexpected. It could help you get where you want to be. 

Image via Howard Lake on Flickr.

For more information about Easier Transitions, read the project report here or visit the website.