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27 May 2021 | 11:11

LJ 3In this blog, Laura-Jane Rawlings, the founder and CEO of Youth Employment UK, highlights the impact of Covid-19 on career prospects for young people, the need for an ‘Opportunity Guarantee’ from Government, and how working with the Coalition can help to standardise good practice and make the Sport for Development sector a ‘better employer’ – in and through sport – with opportunities for ALL young people. 

When we formed the Youth Employment Group at the height of the pandemic, youth unemployment looked set to rise to 1.5 or even two million. That hasn’t happened, mainly thanks to action taken by the Government through its Plan for Jobs and Job Retention Scheme – but we do know the economic cost of youth unemployment, in terms of lost national output, is forecast to rise to £6.9billion in 2022. Young people are still the most likely to have been working in sectors that have shut down and, even before the pandemic, we already had a high number of NEET (not in education, employment or training) young people. The real issue is long-term youth unemployment, where a young person is out of work for six months or more, which has risen by 50% over the last year. It’s those young people who are further away from the labour market who are being left behind – and they are the ones that we really need to worry about.


This is the group who are most affected by structural issues, such as the transition from education to employment. Many young people don’t feel they have got the right employability skills, or might not have had any work experience, or don’t know what jobs and careers exist for them. These were issues before the pandemic, and Covid has amplified them. Social mobility is another issue; if you come from a certain background you are more likely to get support in building additional skills, and can tap into economic and social capital. However for young people without networks and family support, the gaps have widened. Social mobility was going backwards before the pandemic, and it will have gone back further because disadvantage has increased. And then you look at some of the places where young people live, where there just aren’t the same level of career opportunities for young people and where funding at local authority level has been cut back. The whole system, whether that’s education or welfare, wasn’t ready for a pandemic, and now those inequalities have been amplified and exacerbated.

Coach Core

It’s absolutely crucial that those young people who face these structural inequalities and are at risk of being ‘left behind’ are properly supported, such as those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds, disabled people and care leavers. As an example, the reduction in working hours for Black young people (49%) during the pandemic is three times higher than those for White young people (16%). Nevertheless I believe all young people deserve equal access to opportunity, and sport offers us an exciting opportunity around social inclusion. A rugby team has 15 players and those players don’t care who is receiving free school meals or who is hard of hearing; they become a team and that power of social inclusion is really important. Society is made up by all of its layers, so while we must make sure that individuals and specific groups are not excluded and further disadvantaged, young people will also tell you they don’t want to be singled out or labelled, they want it to be a fair society. There is a line to tread here that nobody gets left out and those young people who need extra support, get it – but at the same time everybody should be able to sit at the table.


To support this, the Youth Employment Group has been calling on Government to deliver its ‘Opportunity Guarantee’. We are looking for some form of quality education, employment and training opportunity for every young person, because no-one should be left behind. The Plan for Jobs is starting to deliver on some of that; through Kickstart, through investment in traineeships and careers education, and there has been more thinking around apprenticeships and FE (further education) policy. But is it fragmented at national policy level and across different Government departments. There needs to be a taskforce across all of those areas. We are calling on Government to really think about what this country wants to do for its young people and, within that, its most vulnerable young people. We need a joined-up national policy which can be devolved and delivered at local levels.

Street League

Working in and through sport offers us one way into the social contract that we need for our young people. I’m from a rugby family and I know from personal experience that simply being coached and mentored in sport can open doors for people’s careers. Even before that, young people experiencing disadvantage can find a connection which will keep them from doing things which might get them into trouble. Sport can offer a stable home for young people who might not have a stable home, or a place for a young person to develop if they do not go to university, and connect to career opportunities and networks.



I have visited some incredible youth employment programmes and often the first point of contact with a young person – who perhaps is vulnerable or has experienced disadvantage and needs a trusted adult and a safe space to engage – can be with sport acting as the conduit. Trust, conversation and engagement builds a foundation to support social, economic and cultural capital. Either through the funded and programmatic approach that we see across the Sport for Development Coalition where sport can improve employability outcomes for young people, or the ‘unintended’ consequences of sports clubs and groups, through volunteering, teamwork and community cohesion; I think there should be clear articulation of the Social Return on Investment of what sports clubs and sport for development organisations up and down the country do. Certainly when it comes to the ‘intended’ activity, I think local authorities, the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) and DfE (Department for Education) should be using sport more intentionally to support the most vulnerable in society.  

Sport 4 Life

That’s why we are inviting Coalition organisations to get involved with our #CreateYourFuture campaign. The aim is to come together this summer so that everyone who is creating opportunities for young people – whether that’s through education, employment and training; events and activities; social action and volunteering – can get behind one campaign and young people can look in one place and find something for them. There is a Pro Forma and organisations must adhere to our Charter but, beyond that, we want it to be fun and engaging, to help develop skills, to provide opportunities and hope, and provide something for young people beyond Covid. We have to be together on this as a society; how could anyone argue that there shouldn’t be this kind of opportunity for young people? 


Youth Employment UK shares many of the same values as the Sport for Development Coalition, and we feel that, by working in partnership and not trying to re-invent the wheel, we can utilise all of the good things that are happening and help to accelerate them. We want to standardise and share best practice across the network, and ensure we are considering the holistic development of each young person, instead of different aspects in isolation. We use NPC’s ‘Journey To EmploymenT’ framework which lists seven factors such as personal circumstances, attitudes and behaviours, as well as CVs, skills and work experience. If you do one or two without the others, and a young person gets a bit of help which doesn’t quite move them on, then they can feel like they have failed because they didn’t achieve the outcome that was set. In truth the service hasn’t been quite right, but the young person thinks ‘I have failed’. I want to work with the Coalition to standardise excellent practice, or to create a blueprint of what excellent practice looks like, so organisations can benchmark themselves against that. This will also help us build the evidence base of what the sector is doing, of what works and what doesn’t, so it can help to commission service thinking. It’s what can help the sector to become a ‘better employer’, and the best way to reach the biggest number of young people. No-one will do this on their own; it’s only by learning from each other and collaborating, by scaling, supporting and signposting that we will get real action out of it. 

To find out more and sign up to the #CreateYourFuture campaign, visit 

Online forum JPG

How can working collaboratively and aligning with wider youth employment efforts enhance the contribution of sport, sport for development and physical activity in tackling youth unemployment? Hear the insights of LJ Rawlings, Chief Executive of Youth Employment UK, in conversation with the Sport for Development Coalition on Wednesday 23rd June (1600). Watch live at

Pic credits: CoachCore, Street League, Sport 4 Life UK.