COVID-19 has had a terrible impact on society’s physical health.
Approximately 51 million cases and 1.2 million attributable deaths have been recorded worldwide since the virus emerged.
Not all of the influences of COVID-19 are immediately apparent. Look beneath the surface and you can see the pandemic is taking a significant toll on mental health and employment opportunities for our incoming generation, entering the workforce.
But we can do something about it.
The pandemic has underlined the role that the business community, particularly those in the oil and gas sector, can play in supporting mental health and youth employment.
We have the resources and access to large networks of people across global communities. We operate within an environment where companies recognise they have a responsibility to support local communities in which they operate.
And if there is one thing our industry is renowned for … it is our readiness to work together to take on and solve problems. When there are common challenges affecting safety or welfare, our colleagues roll up their sleeves, share ideas and work together to find constructive ways forward. I believe we can all agree that is what’s needed now.
But let’s do take a step back. Addressing the challenges means understanding the extent of the issues, so let’s begin with mental health. On average, one in four people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime … yet about half of them will not ask for help. They may be afraid to admit to themselves or to others that they need help. They may fear being branded “weak” … even though it does takes courage to say you need support.
The stigma associated with mental health that still exists today and the lack of understanding which remains prevalent, means that many people who are struggling will continue to remain silent.
In terms of youth unemployment, according to the International Labour Organization, the pandemic is having a ‘devastating and disproportionate’ impact, with recent figures showing the ‘next generation’ faces major obstacles towards continued training and education, moving between jobs and actually entering the labour market in a constructive manner.
With both issues in mind, now add the devastating impacts – both social and economic – of COVID-19, and we have all started to grasp the magnitude of the challenges now facing society.
Many of those already dealing with mental health problems have found themselves cut off from vital support systems, work colleagues, friends and family. It has also led to many more people experiencing basic psychological wellbeing problems.
And the impact on global economies has led to huge swathes of unemployment, further exacerbating the challenges we all face and intensifying the worry and anguish felt by many. This has been especially true for the younger people, with fewer opportunities available than before. Even prior to the pandemic, nearly 68 million young people were already unemployed or underemployed globally.
Commendably, many companies are gearing up to help as are we. Internally, we began by making sure the communication lines stayed open with all of our employees as they worked from home or contended with additional restrictions offshore during lockdowns, providing virtually face-to-face engagement with our leadership teams through weekly townhalls and periodic roundtables. We also provided dedicated resources and support from our global health partners, including seminars on how to manage their own stress levels and means to support their colleagues, friends and family. Crucially, we encouraged our teams to speak up and ask for help and it has certainly made a difference.
Outside of Neptune, we are taking action to tackle the challenges of mental health and youth joblessness directly. As a company, we looked closely at what we could do to provide avenues to opportunities and we believe we have the resident skills and the relationships necessary to help address those two areas in particular.
As a global operator with a presence in Europe, North Africa and Asia Pacific, we already support the UN Sustainable Development Goals which aim to address major challenges such as poverty and inequality. Now we are forming new partnerships with meaningful charities that are dedicated to providing requisite support, and with organisations focused on enhancing employment opportunities for younger people.
In conjunction with Mental Health UK, we will fund a project to ensure people living with mental illnesses in some of the most remote rural communities can get online and access support services. This particularly impacts senior citizens who may not have access to a smart phone or computer, as well as lack the knowledge and skills on how to utilise available support networks without some level of assistance.
We will also be supporting the charity’s Clic website which provides individuals with access to community support 24 hours a day. Our own employees will have the opportunity to be trained as volunteers to join a community of facilitators who assist site visitors.
As part of our commitment towards tackling youth unemployment, we are joining Movement to Work, which is a coalition of employers plus youth outreach organisations and civil servants.
The objective is to help young people who are not active in educational institutions, functional employment or training to move closer towards realising gainful employment and progressing in a constructive manner, and we are hopeful to be able to work with them to identify opportunities such as potential job placements within our organisation.
We are taking some simple and practical steps to help some in our society who have been hardest hit, as well as exploring opportunities for similar partnerships around the world where we operate physical assets or partner with others.
Others can take similar steps such as partnering with organisations like those Neptune is working with as mentioned above. Our industry already makes an important contribution to society by delivering energy needs and providing valuable careers for hundreds of thousands of people through direct employment and indirectly by supporting others via the supply chain.
Neptune’s vision is to make a positive difference to society’s changing energy needs and I truly believe our industry can make a real and a lasting difference to the lives of those with mental health difficulties, as well as supporting young people to find pathways to valuable and personally rewarding careers.
By working together, we can achieve so much more and I personally look forward to seeing others effectively join us in these initiatives with a sense of urgency to provide a lasting difference.
Meanwhile, all the best to you and yours during these trying times.