As a UK Young Ambassador representing Wales back in 2010, I was given the opportunity to represent young people in the UK at international conferences that required representation of young people. Upon reflection, and throughout the experience of two academic degrees, this has been the opportunity that provided me with the best experience of practical learning in my professional development.
With this experience in mind, the opportunity to work on the International programmes at the British Youth Council was one I could not refuse. As a beneficiary and Alumni of the organisation as a young person, I was keen to be on the other side of the table in shaping opportunities and the experiences of young people participating internationally – especially in such a crucial and uncertain political climate.
At the first residential that I assisted at, I was able to see that the opportunities for young people to develop their skills diplomatically, socially and professionally are still a key element of the exchange of support from the British Youth Council. This was a special experience for me to see how other people are still inspired by the opportunities that they have to engage in diplomatic exchanges across the world and especially for them to recognise how this will benefit their futures and has shaped their global outlook. This first opportunity reinforced that it was important for me to ensure that my support of young people that they are aware of what a brilliant process it is, that their input is important, as well as realise their own potential for development.
My responsibilities in the role included managing and shaping the new changes to the UK Young Ambassador programme. From advertising the roles to shortlisting, interviewing and planning elections, I was motivated by the massive response, passion and commitment of the young people who were applying for the roles. This was mirrored in the participation of young people at the many events I was able to plan and manage. Events included Equality 4 Us where young people came together to create a youth friendly charter to reporting hate crime, to engaging with young people and decision makers in Northern Ireland on a post-Brexit future.
A key activity I wanted to contribute towards was the UK Youth Parliament Annual Sitting. I was really excited to be asked to facilitate sessions for the South East of England. As a facilitator, it was a unique opportunity to work with young people in such a diverse age range (11-18) and provide a forum for them to work together to plan, develop and debate. This opportunity has given me the skills to facilitate sessions of my own in the future and transfer skills to my next role as a doctoral researcher, where a key part of my time will be teaching and engaging others in my research.
Moving and working in London was both exhausting and fabulous. I got to attend partner meetings with key funders, internal and external stakeholders as well as expand my PR experience through the use of social media. The biggest benefit of this move was that I got to be in the office every day with a team of people who are dedicated, supportive and brilliant at what they do. I learned something new from every person I got to work with and it would be hard to beat the team atmosphere in any other role. As a charity for young people, ran by young people, the support from the community of staff, trustees and young people we engage with made difficult tasks worthwhile and the successes were met with twice the celebration. I’m looking forward to continuing to support the work of the British Youth Council and share their many successes wherever I can.
Entering the world of work is hard. You might just be grateful for a position and dismiss the way you are treated in order to gain that golden ticket of a reference and work experience to progress to a graduate or entry level job. The reality is that graduates and school leavers are being offered internships in the UK and abroad that are not only unpaid but devoid in value for the future of that individual. At the British Youth Council, we believe that unpaid internships are ways for employers to reap the benefits of the young creative minds of today, without any cost.
We believe that internships should be required by law to pay the Real Living Wage. This will ensure that interns are able to take advantage of the opportunity to explore their career options without financial stress and the burden of taking on part time or extra work to fund their experiences.
Recently the European Youth Portal published a blog by a young woman who had experienced an internship that degraded her experiences as an educated, competent and enthusiastic employee. She was ‘relegated’ to making coffee for her employers and described her experience as ‘depressing’.
I am saddened that this was the case, as I too have experienced a traumatising internship experience abroad, that not only cost me thousands of pounds but led to a huge loss of confidence and trust in dedicating myself to another program. After landing in the USA (a country I had never been to before) I was informed that the job I had worked so hard to secure my visa for was no longer viable – this was working for a congressman, in one of the oldest and most respected establishments of the American state. To this day I have not received an apology or acknowledgement of the stress that this caused to me, never mind the financial strain this put me under.
Luckily, I have managed to move back with my parents and save up that money that has allowed me to pursue a meaningful and fulfilling opportunity as a paid International Programmes Intern at the British Youth Council. Here, I am able to utilise my experiences as a volunteer in this role as well as my academic knowledge of international relations. I feel valued in my role and have been given responsibilities that will allow me to make a proud impact on the organisation and its support of young people both nationally and internationally.
I hope that this next Parliament recognises the vulnerability of our young workforce in gaining those opportunities, that will set their attitude and outlook on work for life. Our young people need to be educated and protected in order to gain meaningful experiences that will contribute to them realising their potential, and paid a real living wage.