"I feel like I can't change anything"

Britain’s young core workers speak out about work
Report type
Research and reports
Issue date
21 Apr 2017
Key findings

We asked hundreds of young workers how they feel about their work, the kinds of issues they have. We also looked into what they’re currently doing about things that frustrate them, or where they feel they don’t have any options.

  • Work really isn’t working for too many younger people in the UK. Young workers are more likely to be employed in industries that have seen huge increases in casualised work over the last decade. Retail, hospitality and social care employ large numbers of young workers.
  • Zero hours, temporary contracts, agency work, all mean it’s getting harder and harder to balance your working life with your personal life. That’s doubly the case for young parents, trying to balance unpredictable shifts with costly and inflexible childcare. Low pay makes it hard to get by and plan for the future.
  • We found catastrophically low expectations that work can be any better, a sense of futility towards taking action at work, and a worrying lack of trust between young workers and the colleagues that they’ll need to have their back if they can be persuaded to try. All big barriers we need to overcome.

We know young workers can move mountains when they unite in unions - just look at the great work done by London’s Ritzy cinema workers or the McDonald’s McStrikers.

But we want to make this the norm rather than the exception. We’ll need to reach out to many thousands of them, and take them on a journey to realise that their problems aren’t insurmountable, and that they do have power when they act together.

Front cover of report 'I Feel Like I Can't Change Anything'

Of all the workforce, young workers in the private sector are least well-placed to get the benefits of union organisation in their workplaces – whilst being more likely to experience low wages and exploitation at work.

And many now grow up in a world where they know no-one amongst their friends and family who are in unions or work in recognised workplaces. Reversing the decline in young workers who are members of trade unions or working in places where unions are recognised is key to improving their labour market outcomes.

Our hunch is that how trade unions engage with their members and some parts of our offer don’t seem relevant or connected to the lives of young workers. So central to building a new model of trade unionism that works for young workers is really understanding their lives.

This report, I Feel Like I Can’t Change Anything, looks more deeply into labour market trends affecting Britain’s young core workers and sets out the findings of primary research that we carried out as part of our structured innovation programme to find new models of trade unionism. We are sharing this research to help others who are working out how to improve young workers’ lives at work, particularly organisers and campaigners in our member trade unions.