From education to employment

International Youth Day 2021: Bringing the Younger Generation Back into the Workplace


To mark #InternationalYouthDay, FE News spoke to five industry leaders to get their insight and advice for young people in the workplace

With Millennials and Generation Z accounting for over two-thirds of the UK workforce, we’re acutely aware that our younger employees are the key to a successful future. Yet, with the chaos of the past year and a half, recent research would suggest that the next generation is being forgotten. In fact, a 2020 report from Institute of Student Employers (ISE) predicted a decline in the graduate labour market by as much as 14% by the end of 2021. And, not only are younger people struggling to enter the workplace to begin with, but once there the impact of COVID is still being felt greatly.

Gillian Mahon, Chief People and Places Officer at Totalmobile, explains:

“Recent research has shown that the youngest members of the workforce have been most impacted by the effects of COVID and remote working, with barely over a third of them receiving regular check-ins with their manager. Without being in employment long enough to form a deep-rooted support system, and instead being shut away in their homes, the younger generations are being left to fend for themselves without the necessary tools to thrive.

“As a result, it has never been more important to implement the correct technology and communication strategies to engage employees. Today’s 18 – 24 year olds need to be given the opportunities to network with senior members of their organisation, receive mentorship from experienced colleagues, and be offered the opportunity to receive regular feedback and check-ins to drive their progression. Investing in training in both soft skills and digital skills can also be invaluable to young people’s prospects, no matter the sector they end up working in – even jobs that have traditionally been thought of as manual are becoming increasingly more reliant on innovative technologies.”

Cultivating the right business culture  

As well as investing in soft skills and communication strategies, one of the biggest ways organisations can assist their young hires is to cultivate a positive workplace culture that prioritises employee wellbeing and engagement. Nick Adams, Vice President of EMEA at Globalization Partners elaborates, “over the last 18 months, the traditional post-graduate paradigm of commuting or moving to a big city to work, has been, for many, replaced by the tempered reality of a bedroom desk and barrage of zoom meetings. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, warns that if companies don’t make a return to the office soon, young people could ‘miss out’ on the benefits of in-person mentorship and communication.

“However, career progression should not be equated with attendance in an office environment. To keep up with today’s modern workplace, companies need to do all that is necessary to create an engaging employee experience and support team members from the beginning of their careers.

“Now more than ever, recruitment and onboarding represent the most critical points for improving employee engagement and retention for the long term. So, enabling standardised processes that ensure new hires can deliver fast will be critical.

“This International Youth Day, employers should consider how they can invest resources towards building company culture that supports the next generation. Leveraging technologies like video conferencing and other digital channels will be crucial in managing young workers as they take their footing in the world of work – and will soon enable them to stride.”

“Whilst some have thrived in lockdown, others have found the whole experience quite isolating, so we began a weekly survey of our teams’ emotional state towards the end of each week,” continues Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru. “They are asked how they felt emotionally on a sliding scale of 1-5. Anyone scoring three or under has been offered help. We also put in place a new health scheme for all, which includes confidential access to professional mental health practitioners.

“We found that it was harder for our younger people that might not have their own space and share accommodation. By measuring their wellbeing, we have been able to offer support, in a programme coordinated by our people and culture team. We found that our colleagues have been very open and honest about how they feel, and as a company we are getting better at these ‘soft skills’. The leaders of every department also come together in a team call of our top 30 managers at 9am every day, to report on what’s going on in their domain for a couple of minutes apiece. This means we are able to take a temperature check on every aspect of our business from every regional office – whether that be in Japan, The Netherlands, Germany or the US.”

Investing in skills support

Aside from the growing pains young people are facing in the workplace, one of the biggest effects of the pandemic has been on employment levels, with the next generation struggling significantly to find appropriate jobs. In fact, Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President EMEA at Skillsoft states, “unemployment for 16-24 year olds in the UK has increased by 13% since the start of the pandemic. As young people continue to bear the brunt of job losses, more needs to be done to help this year’s crop of school and university leavers looking to join the labour market in the summer.

“For many, investment in skills support will be key to addressing both the disruption in the UK labour market, as well as the growing digital skills gap. Last year, the government launched a Kickstart Scheme to help organisations employ young people and take on apprentices. This has been key to helping address the skills gap faced in the UK and help young people take advantage of the opportunities in the tech sector.

“However still, 34% of young people do not currently feel equipped to compete in the job market. It’s time to focus on the next generation of tech talent. Organisations that open up technical training and development to a wider candidate base, encourage and support more female employees to develop the skills required to fill identified gaps, and implement life-long learning for employees will be most likely to create the workforce they need to compete into the future with confidence.”

Finally, Hugh Scantlebury, Founder, Director & CEO, Aqilla summarises,

“the last 18 months have taken their toll on all of society. But in many ways, younger people, faced with disruption to their education and the challenge of beginning their careers in a working-from-home environment, have particularly struggled. On International Youth Day this year, I — and the team at Aqilla — have reflected on the challenges faced by young people, and we sincerely hope that life will return to a greater degree of normality with the start of the new academic year. From our work with Young Citizens, we know all-too-well that young people long to reengage with all parts of society — including the democratic process — and it’s our strong hope that, together, we’ll emerge from the pandemic, stronger, kinder, and more focused on our collective futures than ever before.”

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