A year ago, no-one anticipated the environment in which we would be operating today. Although there is a silver lining in terms of the rapid adoption of forward-thinking learning and working practices, the cloud is still dark, particularly when it comes to the working lives of millions of young people.
They have been hardest hit by every stage of the process. As well as being more likely to be furloughed than older workers, the ‘lockdown sectors’ employ more than their fair share of young people. And, of course apprenticeship opportunities in those sectors have been decimated.
The ‘Digital Divide’
There’s another challenge too. In the rush to adopt new technology and platforms, another form of discrimination has reared its head. The ‘Digital Divide’ has created very real barriers to the new world of work and learning for thousands who would previously have relied on the infrastructure and support networks offered through schools, colleges and other support organisations.
The digital divide is at times physical – with access to high speed broadband and computer equipment, but deeply social too. The lack of a quiet space at home, the battle for bandwidth, parents and carers who can provide a ‘helpdesk’ when new or different software is needed. These all have a major impact.
Since lockdown began in March, we’ve been running monthly “Virtual Roundtables” with a wide range of employers from across the UK. From Tech to Professional Services and Manufacturing to Public Services the conversations have been wide-ranging about the challenges – and solutions – associated with the attraction, engagement and recruitment of young people in the current environment.
Whilst many of these conversations have included some of the more traditional challenges associated with Diversity and Inclusion, considerable thought and effort has gone into the way in which young people can be supported across this digital divide. Organisations such as Microsoft, Cisco, SalesForce, IBM, PWC, CapGemini, Edwards, Direct Line Group, John Lewis, Transport for Wales….. more than 60 in total have been sharing challenges and solutions, and it’s been great to take part, and learn from the conversations.
Supporting candidates in the earliest stages
They’ve given positive examples of outreach and engagement in many different ways. All of it designed to support candidates in the earliest stages of their interest in apprenticeship and other entry level roles, well before they become learners or employees.
We’ve heard about:
- Apprenticeship managers making weekly phone calls to applicants to keep them up to date, and find out what support they need.
- Recruitment teams and hiring managers changing job specifications to allow people to work from home, and then designing attraction and engagement campaigns to actively recruit in regions with the highest levels of deprivation.
- Remote telephone and chat mentoring from home-based staff, to provide additional support to applicants.
- Diagnostics at the earliest stages of engagement to ensure that support is provided for the selection process itself.
- The sending out of workbooks and support materials (yes physical ones, not just PDFs) to applicants to help them in the application process.
The college-employer dialogue must resume
For those whose focus is on the education of young people and vocational programmes, the last few years have been a challenge.
Not only has ‘upskilling’ become the priority for many colleges and providers, but the organisational memory and competence that was valued for so many years on employer engagement, vacancy generation and candidate support & matching has been lost in many providers and colleges.
These skills and processes were commonplace from the smallest provider to the largest college pre-2017.
No criticism of providers or colleges is implied; the sector has simply responded to the funding regulations and guidelines and followed them. It is no wonder that starts for young people in SMEs dived, when funding incentivised the delivery of management qualifications in large business.
But now is the moment when we need to recreate these skills and processes. The college-employer dialogue must resume, reflective of the challenges and opportunities for employers, and recognising that support is needed for young people well before they become ‘learners’. Only by doing this in the most inclusive way can we ensure that young people make informed choices and develop the skills they will need for the future.