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Is street slang affecting our children’s employment prospects?

It has been suggested that some people are unaware of the nuances that govern appropriate use of slang

Experts have voiced concern that the slang used by many young – and some not so young – people today is creating a negative impression that ruins their chances of getting a job.

Inappropriate usage

Social media, it has been argued, is responsible for the proliferation of what has been termed ‘multicultural English’ in everyday life. Words such as ‘innit’, ‘bruv’ and ‘bro’ are now being used not just with friends but also to communicate in general.

Some employers have reported receiving messages from applicants replete with slang and emojis; some have even been contacted over social media with friend requests. This immaturity has prompted concerns that young people today are leaving school with no life skills and a mindset that is setting them up for failure.

BAME unemployment

The concerns are particularly aimed at young people from BAME (black and minority ethnic) groups, which account for nine per cent of unemployment despite only making up three per cent of the population. Even more worryingly, there has been a 50 per cent increase in BAME youth unemployment since 2010.

One youth worker from East London has taken the bull by the horns and decided to launch her own campaign to teach young people appropriate workplace etiquette, including communication skills. We have all seen the adverts for the Barclays Skills for Life scheme, which supports young people from all backgrounds to learn the life skills they may have missed at home and school; now, Rianna Raymond-Williams has become a one-woman mission to extend this kind of initiative to reach certain communities that may be particularly at risk.

Combating disadvantage

Raymond-Williams’s extensive experience in youth work revealed not so much that young people in her area of London were unaware of how to behave appropriately in a professional context but that they did not deem it necessary. Raymond-Williams is setting out to change this attitude and to convince young people on a deep level that how they speak, dress and conduct themselves is critical to their future success.

Raymond-Williams’s scheme has its critics, of course. It has been denounced as anti-ethnic and anti-youth; however, the author has passionately defended her ideas, arguing that her motivation is solely to alleviate the very real disadvantages young urban people are facing in the employment arena.

Sociolinguistic debate

Professor Paul Kerswill of York University has also entered this debate, arguing that essentially language is fluid and evolving and that multicultural English may well reflect the shape of the future, with many young people setting up their own businesses using social media platforms. To remain relevant, employers need to develop sensitivity towards the use of multicultural English.

The crux of the issue is perhaps that all generations need to develop a greater awareness of linguistic appropriacy. Language is always evolving, of course; for example, many of Shakespeare’s slang words are now accepted as standard.

To stretch the Shakespeare comparison, different modes of speech were used depending upon context and people were easily able to segue between them. Perhaps we would do well to emulate that linguistic flux in our modern world.

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