youth employment

Let’s talk about youth employment

Maxine Burns talks about the challenges facing young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) as they look to find employment. 

One of the many things I love about working at I CAN is the sense of community there is amongst the various teams that contribute to the organisation. Even though I’m not physically located in the office, I’m connected to the people who work there; and to the other speech and language advisors whose work bases are scattered around the country.

Although we have a shared purpose that helps our sense of community, this all happens through the miracle that is communication. Not just the physical communication systems like telephone and email, but the actual communication skills that I and my colleagues use to stay in touch about our work and connect personally.

Feeling secure and confident enough to do these things and having that sense of community is a two-way process however. Because we have good communication skills, my colleagues and I can do our part in becoming part of the community that is I CAN. Fortunately, I CAN the organisation also tries hard to be communication supportive, for example by being ‘asking friendly’ and this also helps create the kind of work community that’s good to be a part of.

Not every young person entering the workplace for the first time is as fortunate as me. For the thousands of young people with poor language and communication skills, the world of work can be a real challenge. For example, with difficulties understanding and using language, they can find working in teams hard because they can’t process all the information presented fast enough. They don’t always have the skills, or confidence to check when they’ve not understood. Some can even find it difficult to adjust how they talk to senior people or customers at work so can come across as rude or uninterested.

The worrying thing is that employers rate good communication skills as one of the top skills they seek in young recruits. This leaves young people with speech, language and communication needs, at whatever level of severity, particularly disadvantaged in the highly competitive youth employment market.

I CAN’s newest intervention, Talk about Talk Secondary has set out to improve the opportunities young people with poor communication skills have to develop some of the crucial skills they need for life after school. Delivered over a school term, the programme enables groups of young people aged 14-18 to co-deliver workshops about communication difficulties to an audience of local employers. Workshop activities allow young people to self advocate with audiences for the kinds of things that help them, like people slowing down, or providing written down versions of important information. As a result of training from I CAN and then helping young people to prepare for workshops, staff gain a better understanding of communication needs and how to support them. But the win : win situation doesn’t stop there. Most importantly, our pilot showed that in learning to deliver workshops, young people’s communication skills also improved so they were better prepared to enter the workplace when it was time.

Having a job and feeling part of a community are both protective factors in longer term well-being. I’m really excited to see how the roll out of Talk about Talk Secondary can help more young people with speech, language and communication needs develop the communication skills they need to enter the community of the workplace with more confidence. And, as more schools deliver workshops in their local communities, hopefully I’ll see more employers understanding the challenges of speech, language and communication needs and what they can do to minimise their impact in their organisations.