The biggest conversation I have heard over the past two years is 'employer engagement'. In fact, when you Google the expression there are over 16 million references to the term.
I thought I would look into this a bit more deeply this month so I noted the conversations I had and also ran two courses inside a College and a Training Provider to see if I could add some thoughts through my training of how to use LinkedIn, Twitter and a new system called Scredible, more effectively. I did this with the help of my husband, Thomas Power. The findings were brilliant – a real desire to improve engagement with the local community, they just needed the digital skills to do it.
I spend my life flitting between four silos – business networks, the Youth Agenda, business support issues for growth and finally the Digital Skills Agenda. Each of these 'silos' are made up of incredible people that have a depth of knowledge about their sector and the issues that need healing. Intention to create change is high. Whether I am with networks such as Chambers of Commerce; the Federation of Small Businesses; and BNI, or the people seeking to solve Youth issues such as The Prince's Trust; Training Providers; Colleges; Barclays; O2; BT; Accenture and PricewaterhouseCoopers, or those who create plans for SME support such as BIS and their related suppliers for 'growth' such as LEPs, or discussing digital skills with the Digital Industry, they all share one common agenda – GROWTH. Each one says almost the same thing as the other and yet the on the street, tactical 'actions' do not show a great level of collaboration. The solutions lie in the whole, not the part. The solution lies in the intention, not the process.
The issue is one of control. Control is something we hold onto as it makes us feel secure and 'in control'. It feels like we save our jobs, our position and our salaries if we maintain control, yet I feel it is this very need for control that is stopping real success. Why are there still so many unemployed youths? Why is it that graduates cannot get jobs? The skills shortage is growing. The fear of passing an idea across or sharing an idea is stifling change.
I spend my time on the streets of the SME and I can sense that they would love you to care about their skills; they would like more 'friends'. However, the current regime of communication bombards them with messages from four separate silos who rarely 'engage' and their marketing reads like the programmes have been created to serve the creator, not the SME.
We are moving rapidly from a 'transactionally' driven world of selling to one of being 'social'. Social places your customer firmly at the centre of your thoughts, deeds and actions. If more people realised this, I believe collaboration would be simple and we would see a shift from 'control' to 'support'.
If 95% of our business population is the under nine employer niche – the micro business, what if we placed their needs at the centre? If we grow them, then they will employ more. What if we all started to serve the SMEs, engaging with them more fully at the local level, offering our amazing youths to support them as a solution to their needs rather than 'sold' them youths to serve our business needs? Now there's a thought!
I am being deliberately sarcastic here, as the reality is...this is what I hear, what I see and how the SME feels. Stop selling your youths to them and start collaborating with the 'silos' in your area in order to create the demand. Be a friend and support your SME, don't sell to them. Ultimately, we all want the same thing, a thriving economy, and as far as I am concerned, I would add 'a thriving digital economy' and surely our youths are the best solution for that.
Penny Power is founder of the Digital Youth Academy