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How can we expect to keep up with the millennials, those tech-savvy digital natives, the uber-connected Generation Ys? We don’t even know what to call them, never mind how to engage them!

According to digital thought leader, Chris Woods, in his keynote speech at Leisure Industry Week 2015, these young mobile people are sociable, ambitious, health conscious and masters of self-promotion and image control.

Over 90% of our younger generation are smartphone owners, yet they see email as a necessary evil for dealing with the large organisations they interact with. What they do, others eventually follow, and this is nowhere more evident than in the startling statistic that there are 4.9bn phone owners globally -far more than the number that own toothbrushes! Read more about this here.

These young people are less swayed by advertising than ever before. Their exposure to media – 36% use multiple devices at once – makes them snow blind to companies touting their wares. They like to consume messages in soundbites and bitesize chunks, and are overwhelmingly influenced by other people – from the vlogs of Zoella, to trusted ratings sites such as TripAdvisor, Amazon and more.

This isn’t so different to previous generations, only that the word of mouth recommendation has been replaced by something on a much grander, and arguably more useful scale.

We as service providers must respond, and quickly. We need new ways to reach these young people. Advertising through a website, though critical is only the start. Apps are essential, and social media presence counts. A share is more valuable than a like, and a review – assuming its positive – is worth a lot. But there is the potential to do so much more to inspire and engage our young people. Young people want brands to actively court them (see Tom Pickard's article for more), and to show we understand them and their individual needs.

So back to that toothbrush. How do we get healthcare messages out to this generation? We know they are 15% less likely to smoke than previously, and yet they are less aware on other health issues. Last year, the report by Public Health England into the nation’s health made it clear that reaching out to and working with young people is essential in making a difference to the UK’s health (and wealth), as well as their own wellbeing.

Knowing that young people value their peers and interest groups so much means we need to improve those networks, investing in their knowledge and skills so that they can learn from each other. With this in mind, YMCA Awards has created the Young Health Champions programme to inspire young people aged 14 and over, to deliver healthy lifestyle messages to their peers.

Covering peer leadership, health promotion, sexual health, substance abuse plus many other optional areas, our programme is flexible and ideally suited to anyone working with this age group – education providers, prisons, clubs and associations and more. Funded by the Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency, it enables young people to act as positive role models and inspire their peers in their own environment. By harnessing the potential and ambition of young people, Young Health Champions gives them the ability and tools to change their world.

If you think our Young Health Champions programme could work for you, or you’d like to know more about any of our products and services, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

For more information, please contact Amanda Smallman, Partnerships Manager +44 7595 411 758 or email Amanda here.

By Helen Hayes, Head of Products and Services, YMCA Awards