Study highlights open goal of using sport to tackle youth unemployment

The new report looks at the springboard role sports for development organisation
The new report looks at the springboard role sports for development organisations can play in enhancing young people’s employability.

New research shows how targeted sport for employability programmes in under-served communities are playing a key role in the face of the cost-of-living crisis.

A new report is calling on the Government to capitalise on the role that sport can play in helping unemployed young people from disadvantaged backgrounds around the UK move into sustained work and training.

Authored by researchers at the University of Bath and published during national Youth Work Week, the -Active for Employment- report is the second in a series commissioned by the Sport for Development Coalition aimed at demonstrating to policy-makers how targeted sport and physical activity-based interventions can help to tackle health and societal inequalities in under-served communities - ultimately producing multiple cost savings to the public purse.

The Coalition is a growing UK-wide movement of organisations and networks using sport to intentionally generate positive health and societal outcomes. These range from improved mental wellbeing and social cohesion to reducing anti-social behaviour, crime and unemployment. The University of Bath report authors - Dr Haydn Morgan , Dr Anthony Bush and Dr Harry Bowles - are specialists in sport development and policy.

Covid-19 and the ensuing cost-of-living crisis have profoundly impacted employment, education and training in the UK, with the effects felt most acutely among young people aged 16 to 24. As economic inactivity rises, over 600,000 people are currently not seeking work - nearly a third of whom (28%) are from -Generation Z-. For this group, underemployment - employment in low-skill, low-paying or part-time jobs - also remains problematic.

The report makes a series of key recommendations focused on sport’s ability to attract and engage young people beyond formal education and training systems, building networks with employers and developing a fit-for-purpose workforce for the sport for development sector. The latter is especially relevant in view of the role that youth work plays in -sport for development- - the notion of bringing about social changes through the use of sport.

Examples of good practice highlighted in the report include Bath Rugby Foundation and Premiership Rugby’s HITZ programme to support young people’s wellbeing and mental health and their transitions into employment through their engagement with sport and physical activity. Others include the English Football League’s initiative to create stronger, healthier and more active communities, working with the Department for Work & Pensions to provide opportunities to enhance employability and support employment in the sports sector.

Associate Professor in Sport Management at the University of Bath’s Department for Health, Haydn Morgan , who led the research explained: -Against a multitude of challenges that young people growing up in Britain currently face, our report sets out how sport and physical activity can play a vital role in helping to keep them on track and to succeed in terms of their employability and life goals.

-Crucially, it highlights that sport for development organisations, which use sport as a vehicle to bring about wider changes in people’s lives, play a vital role in connecting young people with employment pathways - especially those furthest from the employment market with relatively low investment.

-We need to ensure sustained investment continues in the sector to ensure this vital work can continue.-

Hitesh Patel , Executive Director for the Coalition, said: -With the UK now contending with a cost-of-living crisis, it is vital that we mobilise all societal assets that can help tackle inequalities and generate cost savings. Sport for development is one of those assets, and we hope that this important research will help to demonstrate to policy-makers the value of targeted sport and physical activity-based interventions within communities facing the greatest disadvantage and deprivation.-

Along with primary research, Active for Employment features more than 50 submissions of learning and evidence from across the Coalition’s growing UK-wide network, and follows -Moving for Mental Health- which was published in January 2022. The reports support the Coalition’s #OpenGoal framework which aims to demonstrate the role of sport for development in building a fairer, more equitable and sustainable future.

Throughout 2023, Coalition members will be working collectively to produce further reports and evidence to support the #OpenGoal framework, showing how targeted sport-based interventions can help to close the gap in education and development, reduced crime and anti-social behaviour, and play a key role in building stronger communities and social cohesion-.

Last week the Ministry of Justice announced that the Coalition, along with its network members StreetGames and Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice, would oversee the distribution of a new 5million fund aimed at preventing young people becoming involved in crime and anti-social behaviour.