Engaging with young people will help businesses weather the recruitment storm – People Management Magazine

Rethinking how they attract and retain workers under 25 will put employers in a much stronger position for the future, argues Alex Young
by Alex Young 10 August 2022
The news in the last couple of weeks that the current shortage of workers is estimated to cost the UK economy £30bn a year was a sobering one but will have come as little surprise to many. 
The impact of Brexit continues to be felt in many areas but recruitment is perhaps one of the hardest hit, with additional issues – such as the pandemic and the cost of living crisis – only fuelling the crisis. 
Political uncertainty domestically and internationally inevitably rocks things further, with no one entirely confident in how the short-term future will play out for them. And for young people that uncertainty is deeper than ever. 
We may be living a post-pandemic life, but for this summer’s school leavers the effects of those two years are still being felt deeply. It’s no secret that for many in this generation the pandemic will continue to have a catastrophic effect on their lives from which some will never recover.
Disruption to education and the absence of opportunity to socialise is shaping their lives even today, and as they leave school their futures are far from certain. Meanwhile, by struggling to recruit workers across many sectors businesses see their own futures under threat. 
What is needed now – and urgently – is for businesses to rethink the way they engage with young people to ensure they are in a position to attract the very best talent and in doing so shore up their business for the long term.
Last year we conducted a research project into the attitudes and outlook of generation Z and from that created a set of guiding principles designed to help businesses better engage and connect with young people. 
There have been resounding calls for businesses to invest in skills and training to boost recruitment. Bringing in employees early and offering them the chance to learn while they earn will be a hugely attractive prospect for many young people. 
Building essential skills can mean a person is 52 per cent less likely to be out of work or education. It is also associated with increased wellbeing, and can lead to a significant wage premium, yet it remains something that is seriously lacking, with demand for essential skills development opportunities (83 per cent) far outstripping supply (14 per cent). Earning on the job also helps those for whom the cost of living crisis means staying in education is no longer an option. 
Young people are driven to learn and develop and every engagement with them is an opportunity to help them develop a critical skill or attitude that will build shared growth and a more successful future – for them and their employer. 
Young people benefit greatly from recognition, with 71 per cent telling us it is important they feel valued at work. Businesses must recognise their achievements, celebrate both their individual and collective successes, and help them track their progress dynamically. Give them the opportunity to be proud of their achievements and see evidence of their progress.
Mentoring should also not be overlooked in the development of young employees. Anyone at the beginning of their career should be offered the chance to join a mentoring programme for access to the guidance, advice and support that is essential for growth.
By offering them the chance to work their way up through the ranks, while giving them the tools for personal growth and development, a business can open up a world of opportunities – and earn a degree of loyalty in return. 
Training, development and mentoring can be absolutely pitch perfect on paper, but unless it is communicated well it is wasted. Effective communication should speak the language of the desired audience, tapping into their passions and priorities. 
However, it is crucial that all messaging carries authenticity. Young people are quick to dismiss poorly conceived or inauthentic attempts to connect with them and will call out a business that says one thing and does another. By ensuring that the ideals they support are woven through every aspect of the business, a company can avoid being called out and shown up. 
To truly strike the right note, to stay relevant and to ensure authenticity is at the heart of everything they say, businesses need to focus on co-creation – listening to this audience and asking them to reveal the world from their perspective.
Recruiting people is one challenge, retaining them is another. Speaking to their passions, providing support and training, and being authentic will go a long way to winning their loyalty, but understanding how they view their future is also important for any business looking to keep their homegrown talent, well, at home.
We found 44 per cent of people aged 16-24 expect to have changed jobs more than four times by the age of 30 – a true reflection of the different pace at which they live their lives. Businesses must recognise how swiftly they move through jobs, life stages and changes in their early life and be reactive and culturally relevant, making an effort to understand the real-life context of every age group. This will create an agility that will help maintain that connection as their careers progress. 
There is no getting away from the recruitment crisis we are in, and the knock-on effect today’s current shortage of workers will have on our economy. But there are significant measures every business can take to make not only their own futures more certain, but also that of individuals. By following a few well-informed guidelines and adopting an outward-focused, forward-facing attitude, any organisation can defy the projections and set themselves up for greater success.
Alex Young is managing director of We Are Futures
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