16 August 2019, The Tablet

Young people and the future of work

by Marc Besford

Fundamentally, young people should be treated with dignity and respect, and sufficiently paid for the work that they do

Young people and the future of work

Representatives attend the YCW European Leaders Conference in Porto

Recently I attended a European Conference of the Young Christian Workers (YCP) on the “Future of Work”. At this conference young people were able to share their experiences of working life.

Naturally, this led to us discussing our concerns about the future of work, especially since we are facing a new revolution in the world of work that is evolving faster than ever. With the growth of automation, robotics and artificial intelligence, we have reached a point of unprecedented challenge. We, as young people, are the first generation to face the challenges of technological evolution on this scale but we believe we have been given the gift of creativity and have the will to adapt to these changes positively. We are social beings by nature and want to contribute to society through work.

Work is much more than a source of financial income; work is an integral part of human identity. It plays a part in people’s lives and the future of work has the potential to promote decent employment for all. St Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on Human Work says that “Work is a good thing for humanity. It is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man’s dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it.”

Moreover, we always seek better ways to communicate, we aim to stay connected, but with new technological advances it puts a strain on young people’s lives. The spread of mobile work devices has facilitated a trend towards a culture of permanent availability. We need to protect young people from feeling under pressure to be available to work constantly, so that they have a good work-life balance which in turn will promote a better mental wellbeing.

The conference also highlighted several other areas that young people are concerned about; the increase in precarious work and decreasing job security. For some young people, casual work with zero-hour contracts may fit around studying at College or University, so that they can study whilst earning a bit of money, but the problem arises when young people look for full-time work and cannot find secure employment.

Recently there has been the case, due to a loop-hole in the UK employment law, which sees young people exploited through unpaid trial shifts but not able to secure employment at the end of the trial. This was because the companies were using them as a way to save costs. We need to be looking at ways to help young people secure permanent work by not letting temporary contracts be used for cost-cutting measures but to ensure regular and permanent work for young people. This is equally true for the need to challenge low salaries at the start of their working life. These are fundamental in establishing the dignity of work at the earliest opportunity in the lives of young people.

Workers' mental health is another major issue facing young people today. With all the stress, anxiety and pressure that is put on young people with studies, prospects for the future and self-image they are getting to a breaking point and often suffer silently with the likes of depression. In England & Wales the YCW ran a campaign called “MIND! The Gap” in which we spoke with over 1300 young people who reinforced the growing crisis of mental health and the impact it is having on young people.

With all this in mind we wanted to summarise our view on what needs to be done. Fundamentally, young people should be treated with dignity and respect, and sufficiently paid for the work that they do. They should be provided with adequate knowledge to do their job and not be discriminated against solely because they are young. Employers should allow an improved work-life balance to encourage adequate rest therefore enabling better mental wellbeing.

Pope Francis recently said to young people “Don’t wait until tomorrow to contribute your energy, your audacity and your creativity to changing our world. You are the NOW of God, and he wants you to bear fruit!”. The YCW is keen to be part of this mission and we are calling on society to pay attention to what young people are saying and support us to build a future where: technology is there to assist and improve the quality of life for human beings never the other way round; young people’s God-given dignity can be respected in every aspect, especially in the workplace, where they fulfil their vocation; with sustainability, freedom, peace and love present in every aspect of our lives.

Marc Besford is the National President of the Catholic organisation, Young Christian Workers (YCW) Movement in England & Wales

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