Alternative generation: disenfranchised youth look to co-ops for work

A new crop of co-ops run by young people present a non-conventional route to viable employment, as youth still suffer the effects of the economic downturn

Broken Spoke Bike Co-opWhen graduate Rhiannon Colvin became increasingly frustrated with applying for endless unpaid internships, she took the bold decision to launch her own business, the AltGen co-op.

"Young people are starting to realise that, as long as we continue to fight each other for unpaid or underpaid work, then we remain incredibly powerless. The only way we can change this reality is if we start collaborating, co-operating and working together," says 24-year-old Colvin.

"We've now taken matters into our own hands to create a more sustainable and equal economy, one where our work allows us to generate an income, do what we love and have a positive social impact. Co-operatives are one way of achieving this."

Launched this July as a worker's co-operative, AltGen aims to support 18-29-year-olds to set up their own co-operative businesses as an empowering and collaborative solution to the crippling issue of youth unemployment. Currently 18% of young people aged 16 to 24 are unemployed, compared with the overall national figure of 7%.

A report published earlier this summer by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) illustrates how young people have taken a disproportionate hit during the economic downturn. The report found that between 2007 and 2013 the employment rate among 22-30 year-olds fell by 4% while among 31-59 year olds it remained stable. Over the same period, young people aged 22-30 saw their household incomes fall by 13% while those aged 31-59 saw a 7% drop. "Pay, employment and incomes have all been hit hardest for those in their twenties," concludes Jonathan Cribb, research economist at the IFS.

One of the first projects that AltGen has unveiled is the Young Co-operators Prize which will award five £2,000 start-up grants to young people who have ideas for potentially successful co-ops. The competition is a collaboration with ten leading universities including Bristol, Goldsmiths and Leeds and Co-operatives UK, the trade body for the UK's co-operative movement.

Read more: