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What Does It Mean to Be Youth-Centred?

To be youth-centred means developing employment strategies with youth not for youth through meaningful engagement.

Simply put, to be youth-centred means working alongside youth as partners in decisions that impact them. In the context of workforce solutions, it’s developing employment strategies with youth not for youth through meaningful engagement.

At a time when businesses are striving (if not struggling) to stand out as an employer of choice, youth-centeredness supports the recruitment and retention of young talent. It’s also vital to cultivating an impactful workplace that is informed, relevant and responsive to the needs of young workers.

To be clear, a youth-centred approach is not about giving youth everything they ask for. Rather, it’s placing them as the central consideration and collaborator on solutions. UNICEF put it well: Youth are experts in their own lives and they have the right to participate in decisions that affect them.

Youth-Friendly / Youth-Focused / Youth-Centered

Youth-centred is often used interchangeably with youth-friendly and youth-focused. While these approaches consider and collaborate with youth, they vary in degree. Here’s the difference:

  • Youth-friendly: Adults create what they think young people will like with limited, if any, youth engagement.

  • Youth-focused: Adults include the input of youth, but ultimately adults still dominate decision-making.

  • Youth-centred: Adults and youth partner as co-creators, leveraging the unique abilities and contributions of both groups.

Meaningful Engagement

Meaningful engagement is full inclusion in decision-making, action and outcome ownership – not just in the pieces adults feel are age appropriate.

Careful attention should be paid to avoid token participation that gives the appearance of youth engagement but results in no actual impact. For example, having a young person review a policy that is already written limits the opportunity to have their insight and perspective incorporated when compared to including them in all stages from concept through creation.

Ingredients for Success

A successful youth-centred approach has five key ingredients:

  1. A strength-based approach that assumes all individual youth and adults bring unique abilities and strengths to the task at hand

  2. A pervasive appreciation for the value of youth participation is reflected throughout the organization and its work

  3. Recognition that youth are not a monolith; diversity is sought, respected and celebrated

  4. Equal partnership between youth and adults that invests in relationship-building as colleagues with clear intentions and a defined purpose

  5. Continuous evaluation that monitors progress and measures results

Removing Barriers

We should actively identify and remove barriers to full participation. These can be created by attitudes, logistics and systems.

Attitude-based barriers include adult bias that may see youth as incapable of meaningful engagement. This leads to adults “protecting” youth from “mistakes” and reducing involvement. The flip side is that adults can fail to recognize youth have less lived experience and may place unrealistic expectations on them as co-creators. Stereotypes of youth as vibrant, energetic and creative further exacerbate the unfair burden.

As well, school and other commitments usually mean youth are unavailable during traditional office hours when adults work. Other logistical and systems challenges include a lack of independent transportation and access to the same tools and equipment adults have to participate in the same work, such as computers, office supplies and other resources.

Barriers exist for adults too. For example, some do not have the same technical aptitude as their young collaborators and require more support to use technology. Let’s not assume barriers are a one-way street.

Working Together

The Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity’s Youth Workforce Consultancy provides youth-centred support for employers to help them hire young people.

A youth-led service, it offers training, resources and consultations to increase youth engagement and support young worker retention. Connect for access to youth-centred resources free of charge.

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