Rob Austin responds to a new report out today from Kings College London

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"Step out of comfort zone" says Newcastle teenager

A teenager from Newcastle has been helping to inform a new report released by Kings College London (KCL), commissioned by the UK’s flagship youth programme, National Citizen Service (NCS). The report looks at how social skills developed early in life can reduce loneliness, improve wellbeing and earnings in later life and makes recommendations Rob Austin believes could benefit North East teens.

Authored by Dr Jennifer Lau, researcher specialising in the psychology of adolescent mental health at KCL, the report explores the current levels of ‘social intelligence’, defined as the ability to apply our understanding of people’s emotions to decide the appropriate form of interaction with others, amongst the next generation, raising some key concerns. Most surprisingly, the study shows teenagers today are experiencing higher levels of loneliness than those aged 55+ and are particularly lacking skills enabling them to interact with people from different backgrounds.

Rob was contacted by NCS on behalf of KCL due to his own dramatic transformation in social skills from the time he spent on the programme, to see how his experience could influence others.

Rob Austin, 20, from Newcastle says: “The confidence to be myself around other people outside of my school group was something I really struggled with. I was anxious to meet new people and didn’t know what they’d think of me, looking back it was an issue that really held me back. Ever since going on NCS it all changed, and everyone has been able to see the difference. Even though we were all from different backgrounds, our group became really close from the first day of the programme which really helped me realise it’s okay to be yourself and having different opinions and perspectives can be really helpful. Working together as a team to create a social action project also helped me discover how to work within a team and manage challenging situations.

He goes on to say: “Since coming back from NCS, I now jump at the chance to speak to new people, I feel confident talking to people from all different backgrounds and I’m much happier in myself. I genuinely think the friends I made on the programme will be friends for life. Having the opportunity to meet so many new people on the programme is something all teenagers should have the opportunity to do.”

Dr Jennifer Lau points to parents, teachers and peers alike to introduce young people to new experiences and opportunities where they can improve their social mobility in order to develop social intelligence. Evidence also suggests social intelligence, and its associated skill set, such as teamwork, communication and negotiation skills, is now more important in new recruits and career progression than IQ or academic intelligence[i]. They even estimate that salaries of those with high social intelligence levels could be accelerated by 31%.

Kim Smith, Contract Director for NCS North East, says: “Rob is testimony to the fact that social intelligence can be a learned skill that gets you far in life. Before the programme, Rob couldn’t speak up in group situations and struggled to strike up conversations with others. It stopped him from taking the leading role which he has since proved himself more than capable of.

“Through NCS, his confidence and skills came on in leaps and bounds. The turning point was when he summoned up the courage to get up in front of 100 people and tell them what to do. Rob is now thriving as a result of an increased social intelligence, and is on track to achieve his ambition to help young people to realise their potential and become a local councillor.”

Since leaving St Mary’s Catholic School in Longbenton, Rob has gone on to study at the University of Sunderland on a Community and Youth Work Studies course. He also works part time with the NCS team, speaking to other young people about the life-changing rite of passage.

NCS widens horizons by helping young people build lasting friendships that bridge social divides and grow their aspirations by developing crucial skills for work and life. The programme takes place across the North East this summer and is open to all 15-17 year olds for no more than £50.

Places on the summer programme, billed as ‘a summer experience to change lives’ and beginning July-August, are filling up fast. Thousands of young people have already booked their place. Young people or parents are being urged to call 0191 247 4020 or visit to find out more.

[i] 60% think social intelligence is more important than IQ, a third (33%) even think IQ is becoming irrelevant

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Jonny Marshall .

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