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World Youth Skills Day - Aled's Story

World Youth Skills Day (15 July 2019) raises awareness of the importance of enabling our young people to learn and adopt skills which will not only prepare them for the world of work, but also crucial life skills that are invaluable and can't often be taught in the classroom.   

Aled Davies is the Development Coordinator for Young Volunteers in Wales for Youth Sport Trust and Sport Wales. Here he describes how the innovative and well-respected Young Ambassador Programme in Wales is so important for young people across the country, and how it impacted his life.

Firstly, let me give you the low down on what the Young Ambassador programme is all about... 

Did you know that the Young Ambassador programme was created in England in 2006 by Youth Sport Trust after London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics?  The great Lord Seb Coe stated he wanted to create an Olympic Legacy for the games. This legacy revolved around providing young people with the motivation and opportunities to be physically active and to speak out on things that matter to them within sport. The programme was brought to Wales in 2009. As it celebrates its 10th birthday this year, it has seen around 19,000 young people develop leadership skills and create change within their schools and communities in Wales

Young people who join the programme can expect to develop their leadership skills; represent the voice of their peers; become an advocate for the benefits of sport and physical activity; use sport and volunteering as a tool for change in their school and community, and mentor the next generation of young leaders.

All of the above are obviously absolutely fantastic outcomes but what's interesting is that our latest survey with Young Ambassadors (we'll call them "YAs" for short), showed how they actually gained experiences and skills they didn't expect to!  They figured they'd learn some skills to pop on to their CV's, but they never thought they'd meet friends for life and that the programme would improve their mental health and wellbeing as well! There are many reasons why I'm proud to represent and promote the programme, but for me, this insight shows me that we are helping to shape happy, confident and well-rounded young people. 

I feel so fortunate to have been and continue to be a part of this life-changing initiative.

As a YA myself I was able to develop multiple skills and qualities.  Opportunities such as speaking at the 2014 Sport Wales Conference and delivering weekly mini rugby sessions to 3-5 year olds have given me a massive confidence boost - and I can confirm that controlling a room of toddlers is a lot harder than capturing the attention of a room of adults!  After years of gradually building my confidence, throwing myself into things and gaining loads of experience, I found that all of these skills helped me to secure employment.   

For example, whilst working in Blaenau Gwent I developed networking skills by building relationships with the Sports Development Officers.  I made a real effort and just asked simple questions like, "did you get up to much this weekend?", or "did you watch the football last night?".  Taking the time to network and get to know people really paid off because when I applied for a part time job with the Blaenau Gwent team, they already knew so much about me.  They had a good understanding of who I was, that I was able to get on with people and my ability to do the job.  I was chuffed to get offered the job and of course I proudly accepted.

There are so many examples of opportunities I have taken advantage of which have helped improve my skills, but the one thing I always take away from each opportunity is how much my confidence has grown.  I always surprise myself of how I can now (almost) comfortably speak in front of a room of 10 or a room of 400 people.  I achieved this during the 2015 Public Health Wales conference.  It was mad! Needless to say I was really nervous but I'm grateful to the YA programme for putting me in a position and a frame of mind where I could give it a go!

This confidence gave me the motivation to apply for my current job, Development Coordinator - Young Volunteers (Wales) with Youth Sport Trust.  Progressing from being a Young Ambassador to overseeing the programme was a massive step.  I decided to embrace all the skills I had learnt over the years and showcase what I can do.  Another great outcome and I'm loving every minute. 

Confidence is a common theme in the YA programme: YAs are extraordinary young people who have the confidence to speak up and express their opinions without having to be encouraged to. They are conscientious people who do things like set up a sports club because it truly matters to them and not because they have been asked to do so by an adult.

This is remarkably different to the perceived image of young people, certainly in the UK.  We're thought to be constantly moaning about 'first world problems' and glued to our phones.  Poor mental health is an issue, but I have seen how the YA programme can help turn things around for people.  Society can often let us down - it's common to see young people missing out on opportunities to develop their skills and boost their confidence because often adults just don't listen, don't value our input and don't offer us a chance to try something new.   YAs across Wales are developing skills which, in the moment may feel less valuable, but they could be some of the most important experiences which can direct them down a wonderful path of independence and maturity. 

I feel really grateful for the opportunities the YA programme has offered me. I admit, I am a 'yes man' and so I like to think that my ambition and curiosity would have served me a great foundation for life regardless.  However, I cannot emphasise enough how the YA programme offered me, and so many other young people, a platform to achieve great things and to become valuable members of our workplaces, communities, networks and society.

You'd make me one happy guy if you took some time to nose through our social channels to see what our Welsh youth are up to this World Youth Skills Day.