Young people need our support now more than ever. How will you help?
A view from Stephen Allan

Young people need our support now more than ever. How will you help?

As part of Campaign's coverage about the challenges facing Generation Covid, the young people trying to break into advertising during the pandemic, former MediaCom global CEO Stephen Allan says there is so much more that the industry can do.

When I was a young man, starting my career and finding my way in the working world, a lot more things were stacked in my favour than there are for the younger generation of today. 

I had the luxury of getting up every morning, going to a solid working environment where I could be taught and mentored and receive feedback. Furthermore, my social life was buoyant and a safe space for me to escape to between the challenges of starting my first job. Compared with starting work in 2020, I had it very easy indeed. 

This story resonates for many from my generation. We were the beneficiaries of stability and growth, and, looking back now, we underestimate how fortunate we all were. 

It is only now that I have a bit of time on my hands as I enjoy a period of leave after my decision to step down from my role at MediaCom after 38 years, that I have been able to reflect on my career path and the very different journeys that today's generation will embark upon. For them, it begins here: with a global pandemic. 

We all know that for school leavers, graduates and young individuals, many of the joys I described above aren’t likely. Across the world, most notably perhaps in Europe, people are being confined to their homes to fight a virus that has inflicted a heavy toll on our society, and one of the under-discussed costs has been swathes of young people putting their dreams on hold. 

Young talented artists and musicians have limited avenues to practise their trades. Talented entrepreneurs are being staved off due to overwhelmingly saturated job markets. How many tales have you heard over the past few months of entry-level roles being grotesquely over-applied to? 

How do we expect young people to find a foothold in a market like this? It is profoundly sad.

I was compelled to write this post on Linkedin a couple of weeks ago, calling on my network to create a platform for industry professionals to offer their time to mentor young people and support them during this difficult time. A platform where prospective mentees can come and choose a mentor by connecting directly with them. 

There are myriad ways to help these young people and I am fortunate to have a rich, talented and diverse network of contacts on LinkedIn. I know that if I can help connect the right mentor to the right mentee, a strong, symbiotic relationship could be formed. 

I tried my luck with a post, hoping it would gather the traction I wanted it to, and look where we are today. 

More than 300 mentors, and counting, have selflessly stepped up to offer their support, with a real desire to leverage our collective power and help these young people. These mentors are, in many cases, leaders in their fields but we also have mentors who are in the early stages of their career and have fresh memories about deciding which career path to follow and finding that first job. We have mentors from more than 25 countries: from large markets, like the US, to some of the smallest, like Luxembourg. 

The response from my network was nothing short of perfect and nearly the dream outcome from my endeavour. 

There was one problem I hadn’t thought of. 

How do I get more young people to see this post and therefore benefit from these people’s time and generosity? 

More importantly, how were we going to reach the young people who need this help the most? 

To quote my first mentor Vic Davies, the people who need this support are not only “nice, middle-class white kids from Bournemouth”. Mentoring may not be as straightforward as editing CVs and giving interview practise. We need to give our life experience to help these young people navigate the most complicated and tumultuous situations. 

They may need support on working in challenging home settings. They may be scared about the health of their family and unable to go to work. Who knows what they are going through? 

Again, to quote Vic, mentoring “isn’t just for Christmas”. We need to find the right people to help and use all of our skills to support them as best as we can. 

We have mentors. We now need to find the mentees. 

I repeat my call: I urge you all to think who you know that may need help during this period. 

Who are you going to help? 

Stephen Allan is a former global chief executive of MediaCom, which he joined as a teenager and where he stayed for 38 years until he stepped down in July.