Lack of insights
Too many young people in the UK have the same affliction: they’re out of work. Among 16-24 year-olds, unemployment now stands at 993,000 and a young person is over three and a half times more likely to be jobless than an adult.
The CIPD’s recent Learning to Work research revealed 70% of employers acknowledge they have a duty to help tackle youth employment, yet still express concern that young people are ill-equipped to exploit work opportunities. Indeed, 59% said young people have unrealistic expectations about work, 49% feel young people are not prepared for work, and 63% said the young people they recruited lacked insight into the working world.
“Why should young people be work ready if they’ve never worked?” asks Katerina Rudiger, skills policy advisor at the CIPD. She argues that organisations have a huge role to play in helping young people transition from education to the workplace, but says employer perceptions and behaviours have to change.
“We need to get over ourselves and not just expect young people to step into work and know what to do,” she says. “If young people have the opportunity to engage with employers and understand their expectations, it can make a huge difference to their employability.”
The CIPD has launched the Learning to Work programme to encourage employers to help youngsters prepare for the workplace and support HR in making the business case for doing so. Rudiger explains: “We need to help HR think strategically about this, consider the skills their organisations need for the next decade and use this information to develop a sustainable future talent pipeline.”
Short-term recruitment, long-term damage
In the wake of the economic crisis, it seems businesses are focused on the immediate term, with further CIPD research finding just 6% of organisations look ahead to the next five years. When vacancies arise, they are often reactionary, so require someone who can ‘do the job now’. Barney Ely, director at Hays Human Resources, says many companies still lack confidence, so are cautious when it comes to hiring. “Making the wrong recruitment decision can be a cost they can’t afford, so many organisations are reverting to those with experience,” he explains.
Yet Ely feels overlooking the future workforce can pose real threats to businesses and warns of a potential lost generation of talent. “By attracting new young talent, you are ensuring the future success and leadership of your business,” he comments.
Ely’s advice for HR teams is to map out the skills you have in your organisation today and what you are likely to need in the future, so you can workforce plan effectively. By engaging with young people now, Ely argues you can build up your future talent pipeline to ensure you have the right skills in place, which will ultimately strengthen your competitive edge in the market and position you as an employer of choice.
Financial support for business
Mark Hoban, UK employment minister, agrees that there’s a solid business case for employing young people, whose ‘fresh ideas and enthusiasm’ can be hugely beneficial. “Most young people want to get a foot on the career ladder, but often their biggest stumbling block is lack of experience,” he says.
Hoban recognises that government needs to work with employers to open doors to young people, which has led them to introduce the Youth Contract to help young people get sustainable jobs in a competitive labour market. Worth £1 billion over three years, Hoban says the Youth Contract will create opportunities for 500,000 young people – giving them a chance to gain the skills and experience they need to find work, while supporting businesses. This will allow organisations to see potential recruits in action.
Along with measures already introduced, Hoban boldly states the package will ensure that every unemployed young person who needs support will get it.
“Some 100,000 people have already benefited from a work experience placement and this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of employers,” he states. “I’m very grateful for that and would like to appeal to other businesses to get in touch with their local Jobcentre and give many more young people a chance.”
Clear commercial benefits
Giving young people ‘a chance’ has certainly proved worthwhile for many organisations. The Learning to Work research found of HR professionals that have recruited young people in the last 12 months, 91% are either very or fairly satisfied with them. Young people’s willingness to learn, motivation, new approaches, cost effectiveness and diversity were all identified as major benefits to employers.
Yet commitment through action is poor. Despite 64% of employers agreeing that young people need an opportunity to prove themselves, one in four did not recruit a single person aged 16-24 in the last 12 months, and just 56% say they’re likely to hire young people in the next year, suggesting there’s a reluctance to invest in young talent.
One obstacle could be the perceived lack of skills and insights into work, which Rudiger feels is largely due to lack of careers advice provided in schools. “Employers have this perception that young people are difficult, but many just don’t know what opportunities are available in what sectors, the skills required, or about alternatives to university education.
“Ofsted does not assess schools on how much they engage with employers or what career advice they deliver, so it’s difficult for schools to do more as they are under so much pressure to perform academically.
Driving agenda role of HR
Rudiger believes a critical way to help bridge the gap is for employers to visit schools more regularly, to humanise what different careers involve and explain what skills they seek when recruiting. She also encourages employers to expand access routes into their organisations through graduate schemes, apprenticeships, internships and work experience. For Rudiger, this is where HR can be instrumental. “HR has a unique opportunity to drive this within organisations, but you have to broker it too,” she says. She advises HR to work closely with the CEO to get buy-in, so you can educate the rest of the business on why it’s strategic. Getting line managers on board is crucial too; they are making hiring decisions and are often the ones fighting to recruit those with experience.
She also points out that your existing recruitment practice could disadvantage young people. She raises the question: how do you interview someone who has never worked? “Many young people are unfamiliar with formal interview settings and struggle to articulate their abilities, so you might think they’re unsuitable when that’s not the case. This is where HR can support line managers and coach them on the importance of diversifying their approach to young people,” she explains.
Some organisations are more pragmatic about this than others, reveals Rudiger. For example, some have apprenticeship or work experience ‘pre-training’ where matters such as ‘this is our working time’ and ‘this is how we dress’ are covered, so expectations are set before the apprentices begin. Yet with only 24% of organisations offering internships and 29% conducting school visits, much more needs to be done.
Personal guidance Steps Ahead
To help HR professionals appreciate young people’s challenges first-hand, the CIPD is encouraging members to volunteer as mentors in a scheme called Steps Ahead. With help from Jobcentre Plus, young people aged 18-24 who are actively seeking work are matched with a mentor for six weeks. The mentor provides CV advice, interview guidance and general motivation through the job seeking process.
Steps Ahead currently operates in central England and the north west, with plans to go national. About 1,200 mentors have volunteered, and there are 1,000 mentees. To date, 227 mentees have gone on to find employment, an apprenticeship or work experience.
Rudiger offers an example. “One mentee studied web design and dreamed of working in that field, but for the last three years he’s been working in a warehouse doing manual labour. When asked why he didn’t follow his passion, he said: ‘I didn’t know where to begin. My mentor has put me in contact with people in the sector, so I feel more confident to go for it, explore opportunities and now I’m building up my portfolio.’”
For HR professionals, mentoring is a great opportunity to develop your own skills as well as make a difference to society. Feedback, Rudiger says, has been ‘fantastic’. “Mentors have been shocked at the outlook for a young person; it’s prompted them to think differently. You can make a difference to somebody’s life in a few weeks, which is really powerful,” she enthuses. “Volunteers are asking: ‘what more can we do?’”
Actors not consumers
By offering more access routes into your organisation, adapting your recruitment practices and visiting schools, Rudiger believes you are taking the first crucial steps in making workplaces more ‘user friendly’ and beginning to close the gap between education and the workplace.
“Employers can’t just stand on the sidelines and complain that young people don’t have the right skills. They need to see themselves as actors in the education system, not just consumers.
“We are all quick to place blame and say ‘careers advice has never been any good in this country’ – but the world is becoming more complex. In the next 10 years, jobs will exist that we don’t even know about yet, so it’s a great time to invest resources into this area. There’s so much young talent out there struggling, and we have a real responsibility to help.”
The Youth Contract
- 160,000 wage incentives of up to £2,275 for employers to recruit 18-24 year-olds from the Work Programme
- 250,000 extra work experience placements over the next three years, providing at least 100,000 places per year
- Up to 20,000 new Apprenticeship Grants to encourage new employers to take on new 16-24 year-old apprentices
Barney Ely director, Hays Human Resources
Barney is a director at Hays Human Resources. www.hays.co.uk/hr
Katerina Rudiger, head of skills, CIPD
Katerina is responsible for the CIPD’s approach to skills policy issues and currently leads on the Learning to Work programme. www.cipd.co.uk