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Covid-19, BAME young people, and the consequences for employability


Heading into the coronavirus pandemic, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups already faced discrimination and inequality, including in access to work. Evidence shows that the virus and its many consequences have also disproportionately affected BAME people. For young people in general, Covid-19 has been particularly challenging. It has disrupted education, caused and exacerbated mental health issues, and limited their employment prospects. At the intersection of these two groups, BAME young people are in a particularly challenging position.

A history of inequality

According to government statistics, in 2019 44% of BAME people were unemployed, compared to just 22% of white people. This disparity is greatest among 16- to 24-year-olds: 58% of white, 58% of white British, and 59% of white other groups are employed at this age, compared to only 37% of Black, 34% of Asian, and 31% of Asian other groups. Additionally, the UPP Foundation found that black students are 1.5 times more likely to drop out of university than their white and Asian counterparts. Discomfort, mental health challenges, a lack of a sense of belonging and of being cared for were among their reasons for doing so.

When it comes to employability, BAME young people still face stark inequality. A report by the UCL Institute of Education, Carnegie UK Trust, and Operation Black Vote investigating race inequality in the workplace has shown that millennials from BAME backgrounds are: 58% more likely to be unemployed; 47% more likely to be on a zero-hours contract; 10% more likely to have a second job; are 5% more likely to be doing shift work; and 4% less likely to have a permanent contract than their white counterparts.

Career progression is also affected. In 2017, the Colour of Power – an exploration of the lack of BAME representation in positions of power, published by The Guardian and Operation Black Vote – highlighted that “of 1,024 of the most senior positions in 28 areas of national importance, including politics, the public sector, banking, publishing, media, law, and accountancy, only 3% were from UK BAME background, and less than 1% were BAME women.” What’s more, Office for National Statistics data from 2019 shows that the pay gap between BAME and White groups is at 3.8%.

With all this as a starting point, before coronavirus young people from BAME groups were already facing significant challenges when it came to employability and building a successful career.

Covid-19 and BAME young people

It’s been evidenced that Covid-19 has a disproportionate effect on BAME communities. The mortality figures are striking: while 32.1% of NHS staff are not white, more than 90% of doctors who died during the pandemic were from BAME backgrounds.

The BAME group is incredibly diverse and its members have not had uniform experiences of the coronavirus. In terms of mortality, people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death, while people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnicity had between 10 and 50% higher risk of death, when compared to White British people. This means that young BAME people are much more likely than their white peers to have experienced a bereavement as a result of Covid-19. 

While coping with the fall-out from their grief and its impact on mental health, they also face the possibility of new or increased caring responsibilities. Kooth, an online mental health support service for children and young people, found that while depression has seen a 9.2% increase among BAME children and young people (CYP) during the pandemic, among white CYP the incidence fell by 16.2%.

Meanwhile, a new report from the Childhood Trust has warned that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds – among which BAME young people are over-represented – “are at higher risk of developing serious psychological illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, due to the pandemic.” Causes for this decline in mental health include the closure of schools, a lack of access to technology, food poverty and an increased risk of homelessness. 

According to Dr Zubaida Haque, Interim Director at race-equality think tank the Runnymede Trust: “School closures have had a big impact on BAME children. These children are disproportionately from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and overcrowded and multigenerational homes. They are suffering the most while being least able to socially distance, and it’s taking a psychological toll. Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black children, in particular, are more likely to lose a loved one and less likely to have proper access to online learning.”

These additional challenges make entering employment much more difficult for young people in BAME communities. Dealing with grief, caring responsibilities, and poor mental health make it harder to summon the motivation, focus, time and confidence needed to successfully find jobs. For young people at a pivotal moment in their school careers, the impact of the virus on education has been reflected in their grades and has affected university offers, throwing yet more obstacles in the path for BAME young people to obtaining good and well-paid employment.

Employability for BAME young people after Covid-19

SEO London prepares talented young people from ethnic minority and low socio-economic backgrounds for career success. In an interview for Aptem’s podcast, The Employability Forecast, its head of programmes, Julie Quist-Therson LLM Dip Trans., explained the challenges facing these young people as they enter the job market today. One particular difficulty is the need for jobseekers to become comfortable with being open about their experiences of Covid-19, in order to be fairly assessed against their peers. Firms are putting measures in place to allow for the mitigating circumstances faced by young jobseekers this past year, but this is applied to all candidates; coping with Covid-19 is seen as a universal experience. This means that for anyone who has had a particularly difficult time, being open and discussing this with a potential employer is key.

Closing the employability gap between BAME and other young people will take a collaborative effort. Firstly, the government needs to implement active strategies to reduce inequalities across existing skills and employment programmes like Kickstart. But this alone is not enough. Businesses must ensure access to opportunities is not limited to the privileged and lucky few who’ve been able to maintain health and education throughout the past year. Julie Quist-Therson highlighted the effectiveness of blind applications in ensuring a more equal assessment of candidates. Companies will have to adjust their hiring processes – from how they advertise positions and the requirements they set to how they assess and select candidates – for this gap to close. Finally, for work coaches, she advocated combining personal outreach with technological support to give young people in all circumstances the best possible chance of success.

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