Young workers are our future, but are businesses getting it right?

21st October by Lee Robertson

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Back in November 2020 we reported that those aged 25 or under were most likely to be the hardest hit by the fallout from covid-19. A year on and as we have navigated our way through the pandemic, how have the recruitment, training, and career prospects of ‘generation covid’ fared in reality?

The outlook for young workers in a tight labour market

Labour shortages are affecting the UK’s economy with figures released by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) showing that there is the lowest ratio of unemployed people to job vacancies since records started in 1971. While this is a clear sign that the jobs market is beginning to recover, what is the outlook for younger workers?

In the IES’s analysis of data drawn from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the Office of National Statistics’ Vacancy Survey, we learn that unemployment for young workers is being offset by higher student numbers. It also tells us that while employment was broadly flat for those aged 18-34, there has been strong growth in the employment of 16–17-year-olds which can partly be attributed to the 70,000 jobs created by the government’s Kickstart scheme.

There are positive signs here suggesting that long-term unemployment across all age groups is dropping, but as the economy slowly recovers, it will take time for supply to catch up with demand.

The skills that employers need in the modern workplace

With younger people appearing to exit the labour market in favour of entering full-time education what does the future look like for those students upon graduation?

In 2020 the higher education (HE) sector responded stoically to support learners as much as possible during the uncertainty and upheaval caused by the pandemic with many students moving to virtual classes. However, according to new research published by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), nearly 80 per cent of employers believe that current graduates do not arrive fully equipped with the skills they need to be work-ready.

Published in September, the CMI’s report ‘Work ready graduates: building employability skills for a hybrid world’ canvassed employers, universities and students about the skills needed in the present world of work. It revealed that the top three skills identified as being critical to employability are:

  • team working,
  • critical thinking and
  • problem solving and communication.

Other important attributes included self-management, flexibility, initiative, resilience, emotional intelligence, and creativity. Where employers reported having skills gaps, 94 per cent said it had a negative impact on business performance.

As the report argues, it means more must be done to embed employability skills, or soft skills as they are also known, in courses from the start of their time in education and performance against them, tracked. In addition, while 57 per cent of employers stated they were actively involved in shaping higher education employability skills since July 2019, less than half of students realised that prospective employers play a part in course design.

Young workers are our future, but are we giving them quality jobs?

While there is an evident need for higher education institutions and organisations to work more closely together, there is also a duty of care required of employers in ensuring employees have access to training opportunities and good quality jobs.

That means that along with decent pay and benefits and a good work/life balance, the job design and nature of work is of vital importance too. In taking on young talent, employers must be prepared to invest in giving them the opportunities to flourish. Attracting the best talent is more competitive than ever with the pandemic and the shift to remote and hybrid working opening the door to a wider talent pool.

Consequently, we are seeing new approaches to recruitment being tried out. For example, the Body Shop is launching a new policy for recruiting entry-level candidates by offering roles on a first-come-first-served basis. This so-called open hiring approach sees appointment decisions made on potential rather than work history. However, while useful in sectors impacted by rapid turnover, it will do little to address the skills gaps many organisations face unless they are willing to commit to developing their people long-term.

As Karen Smart, head of consultancy at the AoEC comments: “The job market remains challenging and hiring the best talent won’t be easy, especially with workers’ expectations shifting since the start of the pandemic. We must make work enticing, meaningful and purposeful and highlight the development pathways available when it comes to attracting not just the best young professionals, but all prospective employees.”

Karen concludes: "Intrinsic motivators are different for everyone, but high potential recruits from Generation Z are drawn to workplaces which champion a culture of learning and development and are motivated by shared respect and understanding. Organisations should be capitalising on these aspects of the employee experience if they want to guarantee they are hiring the best talent available.”