Being a young jobseeker during COVID-19 isn’t easy, especially with many supports only available virtually. Youth are facing a competitive job market and may have been forced to change work or education plans because of the pandemic.
This can create challenges for their mental health and well-being. Research shows that prolonged unemployment results in increased levels of psychological disturbance in young people, which may affect their motivation, job search and employment prospects. Fortunately, career development practitioners can support youth through these challenges.
The impact of COVID-19 on youth
The labour market downturn caused by the pandemic hit youth particularly hard. In December 2020, for instance, the employment rate for youth was further from pre-pandemic levels than for all other demographic groups. Fewer opportunities in part-time employment were limiting for youth, while sectors such as tourism – which hosts a large proportion of young workers, especially in the summer – were hit particularly hard by job losses.
Furthermore, an RBC Future Launch survey of more than 1,800 Canadian youth published in March found that across the country, youth were “significantly less confident when it comes to their job prospects and how prepared they are for the future of work.” The survey also found that seven in 10 young Canadians are learning online; nearly half (45%) said that they felt online education was doing a worse job of preparing them for their career. Another key takeaway was that the pandemic has negatively affected the mental well-being and future optimism of Canada’s youth.
How can career practitioners support youth?
Developing a plan with a young jobseeker that is individualized to their needs and circumstances can help support their job search and mental health needs. A client-centred plan can emphasize a student’s strengths, positive qualities and resiliency.
One approach practitioners may consider to support young people is solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT). The appeal of SFBT is that it focuses on the solution and not the problem that the jobseeker is facing. Finlay (2011) found that SFBT was a positive constructive approach that supported older adults who were experiencing hopelessness and anxiety to return to school. There may be limitations to this approach, as it is not focused on investigating the problems people are experiencing. However, the benefits are that it is supportive for learners and places an emphasis on the positive aspects of their experiences and their strengths.
During the pandemic, youth have received a lot of negative information about their labour market prospects and some have felt unsupported by the largely virtual environment for their education and career development. Young people have revealed to practitioners like myself that virtual platforms can be quite toxic at times. It has affected their mental health and more young people just want to talk and have a more client-centred approach. Youth need to feel supported in a comfortable safe environment to openly communicate with the practitioner. Solution-focused brief therapy can help practitioners build that rapport emphasizing a positive outlook. This can help youth move forward toward their goals.
SFBT is just one strengths-focused approach practitioners can take when working with students navigating the challenges of career development during a pandemic. Combining different approaches and techniques based on the needs of the individual will help create a supportive environment for youth in their job search.