Four young people from Orkney have shared their experiences at a national political level on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on career and employment opportunities.
Orkney’s two MSYPs (Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament) Hope Laing and Maya Tams-Gray, represented the islands on the Young People’s Panel at the live Scottish Parliament televised Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee this month (September).
After hearing evidence from the panel of young people, a group of career experts including Skills Development Scotland Orkney careers adviser Kay Hume, participated in a second discussion with the Committee MSPs.
A further informal meeting with Committee members was also held where young Orkney apprentices Ben Johnson, and Andy Tait, who work at Employability Orkney - Restart Orkney, were given the opportunity to share their thoughts on employability matters during the ongoing crisis. Orkney’s Community Learning and Development (CLD) manager, Kerry Spence, also took part.
One Committee member was particularly impressed with the input shared as Hope explained: “This opportunity was great to share with MSP's that have the ability to make changes for young people. Afterwards I received a lovely email from Rhoda Grant MSP who thanked me for my contribution to the meeting and encouraged me to share again in the future.
“Opportunities like this where young people have the chance to share directly their opinions and views to the Parliament is how positive change is made. I look forward to more chances like this in the future.”
Hope was able to tell members, of her own inability to find tourism sector employment over the summer months in Orkney due to COVID-19, which had a knock-on effect of her being unable to save financially for University.
“This experience is one that has not been uncommon,” she told Committee members during the live debate. “The majority of my peers were left unfurloughed. One of my peers wasn’t furloughed due to not working full-time hours – however, when her place of work opened again, she was expected to work full-time hours and put on a rota to do so.
“I believe there is a common misconception that young people working to earn money is just for leisure – people often do not take into account that young people also have bills to pay, parents to support especially those whose parents lost their jobs due to the pandemic or are unable to work due to being ill.”
She went on to say that young people are missing out on work experience due to the crisis meaning the loss of a valuable contribution to their CVs when applying for jobs.
Hope was also able to ask that Government Ministers look to improve the accessibility of support streams for young people.
“I believe putting it through local youth services would be helpful. I know the CLD team in Orkney have done a great job of supporting people in Orkney through the pandemic. Young people are already comfortable with people like their youth workers – utilise the services we already have.”
Maya, who is now at University, was able to share her experiences which saw her unable to start the two jobs she had lined up for the summer months.
“From the start of the pandemic it was very obvious that youth employment was a serious concern for young people in Orkney, and it is something that as an MSYP and also chair of the Orkney Youth Forum, I have been pro-active in getting these concerns heard.
“This was a fantastic opportunity to get these points across at a national level, and really ensure that the voices of young people in Orkney are being heard. This type of event is nerve-racking, but the importance of doing something like this totally overrides that fear.
“I really wanted to get across that this is a serious issue that causes anxiety for a lot of young folk. Young people are struggling more than ever with fears around employment, finances and their future career path and it is vital the Government sees this and acts accordingly.”
As an apprentice working full-time, Ben was asked to take part to explain how he had been affected by COVID-19.
He said: “I think it was a good experience to get other young people’s opinions across as a lot of the time these things focus on people still at school or at University and their experience will be very different.
“Due to COVID-19 I was furloughed for four months but my employer was good and kept me up to date with what was going on and when I would be going back. I am now back and although it has been put back six months I am still going to get my apprenticeship which I am happy about.
“For me the experience has been okay but I think it may be more difficult for people who are wanting to go onto an apprenticeship this year so I think if employers could be helped to still offer apprenticeships that would be good.
“I hope I have given the MSP’s/Committee members a better insight into what is happening for young people like me who are in the trades or on an apprenticeship.”
Andy works as a Retail Assistant at Restart Orkney, a post funded by the Scottish Government through Community Jobs Scotland (CJS).
Andy said: “I am very grateful that my wages continued to be paid by CJS during lockdown and I was also granted an extension to my contract to reflect time lost and help me develop my skills and experience in preparation for mainstream employment. This saved me a lot of worry during a stressful time. I am also very grateful for the opportunity provided by CJS.”
CLD manager, Kerry Spence, said “events such as these continued to give Orkney’s young people a voice at the highest level.”
She added: “It was a great opportunity for our young people to speak about their experiences and concerns in regard to employability, the economy and their future prospects in light of COVID-19. Face-to-face discussions are always much more impactful.
“It is vital to have young people talking about the experience and issues they are facing in the Highlands & Islands and bringing these issues to the fore.”
The Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee is made up of nine members of the Scottish Parliament. As part of their inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 they requested to be able to have a face-to-face discussion with young people. Digital consultations and focus groups have also taken place asking young people to share their views directly.
Committee Convener, Gordon Lindhurst MSP said: “After summer recess Committee members decided that they wanted to expand on the evidence before them and have the opportunity to speak face-to-face with young people.
“Both sessions focused on young people's experiences of the impact of COVID-19, support they have accessed, gaps there may be in support and what their ideas were for future needs.
“The sessions were very useful and will feed into the Committee conclusions from our inquiry."
The broadcast can be viewed on Scottish Parliament TV or on the CLD Orkney Facebook page.