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MSPs hear how ‘disadvantaged’ students are struggling to find jobs or support

School pupils wear masks to classes.
School pupils wear masks to classes.

Student leaders from Orkney have told MSPs about their generation’s struggle to find work or government support during the pandemic this summer.

The economy committee at the Scottish Parliament heard from Maya Tams-Gray and Hope Laing, members of Orkney Youth Forum and the Scottish Youth Parliament.

Ms Laing’s modern Studies class at Kirkwall Grammar School were listening in to the session as she explained how young people had been left in limbo in recent months.

She highlighted concerns among many pupils and students who have been unable to earn money in jobs this summer because businesses have been closed, and because they often can not access furlough support.

People often don’t take into account that young people also have bills to pay, parents to support, especially those whose parents lost their jobs due to the pandemic, or were unable to work due to being ill.”

“It has meant that I have had no income over the summer, which a lot of it would have been put towards my savings and saving up to go to university next year,” she said.

“The same experience hasn’t been uncommon. The majority of my peers were left unfurloughed.

“I believe there is a common misconception that young people wanting to earn money is just for leisure.

“People often don’t take into account that young people also have bills to pay, parents to support, especially those whose parents lost their jobs due to the pandemic, or were unable to work due to being ill.”

Kirkwall Grammar School and the Orkney Theatre.

She added: “Many employers and education institutions look for work experience when receiving an application from a young person.

“Being unable to work has left many young people at a disadvantage because they will be missing this valuable attribute from their CV when applying for things.”

Ms Tams-Gray said the issue was affecting students who are starting at university this month.

“I’ve just left secondary school, just finished 6th year, so I am at university now, and normally I would be expecting to work in the summer to prepare to come here,” she said.

“I had two summer jobs lined up for when my exams finished, but obviously when the pandemic happened in March I hadn’t already started those jobs and I wasn’t furloughed from them.

“So I haven’t had any income over the summer at all, and now I am at university obviously, just having to rely on my student loan.”

Students at St Columba’s High School, Gourock, wear protective face masks as they head to lessons.

Ms Laing said another of the “challenges” facing younger people was related to training, including the inability to complete work experience placements in schools, hospitals and childcare facilities.

“With the pandemic and restrictions put in place, obviously it has meant that young people who are completing their foundation apprenticeships have been left unsure as to whether they will be able to complete their work experience or not,” she said.

Ms Laing said the majority of her peers had been unaware of support mechanisms available from government.

“Of those who I asked, many were left unable to give me much of a response,” she said.

“The things that did emerge through were things like introducing face coverings in schools, and the 2m rule.

“There was nothing about support for young people within employment settings.

“There is no point having support for young people available if they don’t have access to it and don’t know about it.

“So I feel like there is a gap in the actual knowledge of the support available.”

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