Fighting Ageism: Talking with Amma Appiah about supporting youth

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Fighting Ageism: Talking with Amma Appiah about supporting youth

Hi, I’m Amma Appiah, I’m a youth worker. I’ve been in the youth work field for almost 10 years now. I currently work with an organisation called LDN Apprenticeships. It’s an apprenticeship provider, but specifically, I recently joined the team to help them with setting up a youth hub, which is all about getting young people closer to employment, and helping them explore the different opportunities they have available, and prepare them for the world of work. Before that I was working for about eight years with a great organisation called Summer Youth Centre. So yeah, a lot of the stuff I do is around youth work working with young people. I’m also a governor for a primary school and an autistic specialist for education college, and a Trustee for a great charity called Beam, which works with helping young people and adults in homelessness situations. 

You’ve been working with young people for almost a decade. What do you think are their biggest worries?

I think their future, mainly. And that’s not just aspirations-wise, in terms of what they’ll get into to do work, but also what the future of the place they’re living in is like, so their community, the country, all of that kind of stuff, as well as their mental health. I think a lot of pressures that people don’t realise young people are under, over the years has really started to take a toll. And so yeah, one of their worries is just whether or not they will be healthy as they get older, whether or not the pressures they have right now are still gonna be there as they get older. So yeah, a lot of those worries around mental health and their aspirations and work.

What are the skills that young people need? Not just to get into jobs, but also to manage some of these pressures and mental health issues?

I think there are skills that definitely young people need. People call them soft skills, which I kind of have a little pet peeve about, I prefer to call them critical skills. And I think some people call them transferrable skills, which are problem solving, creative thinking, teamwork, all of those kinds of things, which are really critical in the world of work and just engaging in society as well. 

Then you’ve got your hard skills, which would be industry specific. If you’re stepping into media, it might be Photoshop, if you’re stepping into admin, it might be using Microsoft Office or things like Salesforce. But yeah, I think critical skills, ones that are transferable, are really needed for anybody. 

I also think they need to know how to care of themselves, like reflection, which is a big one for. Any young people that work with me and my colleagues, they know that I’m big on reflection. Reflection is really helpful for just being self aware and understanding yourself and getting to know yourself. And I think the more you’re able to do that, the better you can navigate life, I guess as a whole. And that’s because you know yourself and what you need; you can understand what you need and then make steps towards helping yourself with that or having the right people around you to help you as well.

What happens if somebody doesn’t have that support or that awareness? Where would they find it? How would they start?

This might be like a cop out answer, but I really do believe that people need to be taught how to do these things. During the teenage years, people need to be taught how to be self aware and how to reflect. And so where it starts with learning, it would be great if parents could teach it, or youth organisations, or even schools (I think they do sometimes). But it’s kind of a secondary thing, rather than seeing it as something really crucial to navigating life and to understanding yourself. 

There’re so many different ways you can reflect: you can write a journal, you can do quizzes about yourself, online courses, and things like that. But I think even something simple like checking in with yourself every day is great, that’s what I do. Now, that’s a small thing I need to reflect, though the skills and practices that you need to continue doing and make a habit. But yeah, where it starts from is definitely teaching young people that these things are important, and how to do them in different ways that can work for them.

What In your opinion can organisations do to support young people, both internally and externally?

I think there’s a lot that organisations can do. I won’t ramble too much, but I think just offering opportunities is a big one. I think it’s definitely something that organisations may be scared off, because they’re young people, they’re not fully work-ready employees. But actually, there are ways that organisations can offer the skills and knowledge that they have that isn’t quite a toll and isn’t so much of a thing to organise logistically, like being open to giving advice, job shadowing, etc.

One thing I’m moving to do (in an organisation I’m working on) is connecting young people with professionals in industries. Those professionals would be available for a young person to have a chat with them and ask questions about the industry, ask questions about their role, how they got into it, and how they’re finding it. And I think even that opportunity, and having that connection, or speaking with somebody from an industry you’re interested in is so beneficial for young people. And it doesn’t take a lot for organisations to do something like that. 

Of course, it all depends on whether or not you’re a big business or an independent business and entrepreneur. But there are definitely different ways that organisations can offer the expertise and the knowledge they have to young people. Internally, if you have younger team members, job shadowing is absolutely great. Also, I think encouraging CPD. So again, if you’re a bigger organisation, you might have a budget for CPD for your employees to be able to continually develop themselves and, for example, do short courses online. If you’re a small organisation, it could just be finding out what’s free. What’s on YouTube, LinkedIn learning is fantastic. What can your employees tap into? So yeah, I think there are different ways that organisations and companies can definitely support young people. 

(source: Centre for Mental Health)

What are your thoughts on companies that advertise themselves as equal employers who support diversity and talk about them and the values, however, the real representation is quite different?

I think, simply, you must not really find it important. If you’re talking about those things, say your company supports diversity, but it doesn’t really show then you must not really care about it. Because if you really do believe in that, then you would work towards making sure that shows in your company. 

One thing I do when I’m looking at different organisations is check their team page. And that’s not just for things like diversity in terms of ethnicity, but also the age, the makeup of your team. Is there a wide range of different aged people in your team, do they have different backgrounds? Also, who’s accessing your company? Who are your usual customers? I think you can tell a lot about our company when their audience is just one demographic of people or one group of people. And so it’s not just about the representation in your organisation, but also people you’re connecting with.

I also think that diversity and inclusion are now something that people are becoming more and more aware of it and how important it is. And I’ve seen a lot of organisations and companies kind of tap into campaigns and use hashtags and do things like, ‘Oh, yes, we are inclusive, or an inclusive workspace’ and things like that. But actually, they’re not taking the steps to make sure it’s implemented in their organisation. A lot of the time, that’s just a secondary thing. Also – neurodiversity. I think that’s something that often gets left out of the conversation when we talk about diversity and inclusion. People usually speak about age, ethnicity, things like that, but having a company that’s accessible to people who have diverse needs is really important.


(source: Ministry of Justice)

What advice would you give young people who are trying to get into employment now and post-COVID? 

Firstly, you have to know that it’s going to be hard (I’m pretty sure you already do) and you have to manage your expectations. I think as much as I’m speaking for organisations and companies to give loads of opportunities, we also need to recognise it’s been hard for those companies and organisations as well. 

But as I said before, there are different ways to step into the world of work. If a company can give work experience to a young person or young adults can get work experience, really try and push it. Even if it’s unpaid, try and connect with as many organisations as possible, be confident and reach out. Ask for support with that as well. There are so many people, mentoring opportunities that you can tap into and say, Look, I’m trying to find a job. I may not have any work experience or anything like that, can you support me with this? If you have LinkedIn, make connections, send a message to somebody in an industry you might be interested in, drop a message for them and just say, Hey, I just want to ask you a couple of questions. This is a bit random. But I’d really like your advice on this. 

Another thing is, Google is your best friend. I use Google a lot. Even when I’m just working with a young person, they might ask me a question I have no idea how to answer. Use Google search, for example, ‘How do I start my career in graphic design’, and there will be loads of things that people write articles about, or even do YouTube videos.

I think one thing that’s a plus that’s come out of COVID is understanding that loads of people need support. And through that, loads of individuals and smaller organisations have been really supportive in putting information out there for people to access for free. This is a barrier that a lot of people, simply accessing that information and knowing where to start. 

I also think it’s hard to say: do this and this will work, or do that and that will work. I think there are loads of different things you need to tap into, and loads of different things you need to try. But it’s not just the young person thing to do. Organisations also need to get on board with understanding that people need opportunities right now and people need help. And as much as organisations can do that as possible, the better it will be for young people trying to get into the world of work. 

How can we build resilience in young people? How do we make them aware that we are all quite resilient as human beings? 

I think, in terms of resilience, it’s something that can be built up and it can be taught. But we also need to recognise that building resilience starts from really early on. And if you have grown up in a background that is, as people described it, disadvantaged, you’re going to be 10 steps behind, and you’re going to have a lot of more work to do to build up your resilience, emotional resilience, mental resilience, all that kind of stuff. 

It all comes down to people in the community, understanding that your community is made up of different people and investing in your community as well, knowing that okay, this is the area I’m growing up in. This is the area where I’m seeing children grow up in as well. 

So there are practical things that people can do, like engaging with community organisations that are already there, youth centres. They’re very big. And that’s not me being biased because I come from a youth work background, but we’ve seen there’s so much research that shows that youth organisations and youth centres are really crucial to helping young people develop, especially in the adolescent stage and moving into adulthood is so, so important. They’re safe spaces, they’re places where young people can get a lot of support mentally and also, just connect. Especially if other people have positive influences other than family members in their life as well. 

I think organisations might have a wider spectrum with all the council campaigns and council projects that are going on. They just need to be geared towards young people, and they need to be quality products and quality programmes that focus on how we help these young people. They should also focus on encouraging young people to be involved in those things where there are changes in your community, encouraging them to speak on that and to have their voice in that. 

There are already loads of organisations doing things like this so there are definitely people already doing the work. I think it just needs to be more widespread. And it can’t just be a few people doing it. It needs to be an everyday thing that people try and do. Even if it’s just on a small level. 

Thank you Amma!

You can follow Amma on Linkedin here.